Probe clears city of concealing cemetery data

Ventura County Star

Probe clears city of concealing cemetery data
But Grand Jury calls actions 'insensitive'

By Kevin Clerici,

June 25, 2005

The Ventura County Grand Jury on Friday cleared the Ventura City Clerk's Office of allegations that it concealed public documents on Cemetery Memorial Park but criticized other city actions involving the historical cemetery.

Although it found no illegalities, the Grand Jury concluded the city of Ventura in the 1960s removed some 500 tombstones and crypts with little regard to their historical significance.

Some were buried in a levee to stabilize land beneath a golf course and others were dumped in Hall Canyon, the Grand Jury said in a 17-page report issued Friday.

"The city appears to have been somewhat insensitive to those interred in the cemetery, their families and the cemetery's historical significance," the report said.

Acting on a citizen complaint, the panel found no evidence that employees in the City Clerk's Office were directed to withhold public documents and files regarding the cemetery, now a 7-acre hillside park, at East Main Street and Aliso Lane. The office has appropriate policies and procedures in place to handle requests for such records, the Grand Jury said.

"Employees in the clerk's office are knowledgeable and cooperative in the performance of their duties," the report concluded.

The findings came as no surprise to Ventura Mayor Brian Brennan, who said he had faith in the city's record keepers.

Opened in 1862 as St. Mary's Cemetery, the Catholic burial facility was later divided into Protestant, Jewish and Chinese sections. By 1944, the city-owned cemetery was racked with financial problems and fell into weed-infested disrepair. Headstones were toppled and damaged. New burials were prohibited.

In 1965, the city began storing tombstones and crypts at a Hall Canyon city parks yard, where they were laid out in alphabetical order until heirs of the deceased could be located to claim them.

Some of the unclaimed stones were later buried in Hall Canyon and others hauled to the Olivas Levee, the Grand Jury concluded.

Brennan, who had not seen the report Friday, said the city might reinstate a policy of paying for grave markers and installing them at the park for families who request it. The city also is looking at commemorating the dead with a public memorial or monument.

That's not enough, however, for preservationist Steve Schleder, who wants the popular hillside park restored to a cemetery, headstones and all.

"The city is still culpable," he said.

Copyright 2005, Ventura County Star. All Rights Reserved.

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