Los Banos Cemetery Board approves decorations policy

cpride@losbanosenterprise.comFebruary 28, 2014 

A nearly year-long battle about what mementos and remembrances can be placed at the Los Banos Cemetery appears to have come to an end.

The Los Banos Cemetery District board of directors voted unanimously on a new decorations policy Monday night.

Since May, the cemetery district had been dealing with a desire by family members to leave mementos versus the facility’s need to keep its maintenance workers safe from injuring themselves on the items.

Families visiting the cemetery began to notice flowers, angels, lights and other items placed at their loved ones’ graves were disappearing. Cemetery Manager Deborah Lewis had overseen their removal, storing them in a nearby shed in most cases and throwing items away if they had been damaged.

The new policy permits solar lights, unbreakable toys on the graves of infants, additional flowers and potted plants on holidays or birthdays and two flags at a grave simultaneously. The new policy also states items will be removed from graves weekly and stored for up to six months unless they are deemed dangerous, in which case they will be removed immediately and stored for a week.

Previously, the policy prohibited shrines of any kind and did not include specific details on what happens to items removed from grave sites.

Angry residents who have loved ones buried at the facility complained for months about the policy and what they believe is Lewis’ uncompassionate and sometimes rude behavior.

Beginning with Duane Brehm in July, three board members resigned following the controversy. Neither Brehm nor the other two, Mike Villalta and Tony Mellillo, attributed their departure to the decorations policy issue when they resigned. However, on Monday Brehm, who was reappointed to the board this month and voted its president, said the board’s inability to function and the death of his nephew led him to leave the board.

“I was not getting along with some of the board members on here, we were always at a stalemate. This board wasn’t moving,” Brehm said. “I felt I really didn’t need to put up with it anymore. Hopefully some of these things people have gone through won’t happen anymore. We need to come to some compromise and I think this decorations policy was part of it.”

Stanley Silva became upset last year when the cemetery asked that the wooden cross at his loved ones grave be removed. The issue has since been resolved.

Silva, who is one of a handful of residents who worked with the board to revise the decorations policy, said some progress has been made.

“They have made headway. The thing about the wooden crosses is good, keeping stuff on the edge of the base,” Silva said. “Those are some of the things I like, but other people don’t see it that way.”

Silva said he’s talked to people who remain upset because trinkets made out of certain materials remain banned.

“The idea about somebody putting a little porcelain piece on a grave, they (the board) say it’s a safety issue. I don’t buy that,” Silva said. “Some people still don’t feel comfortable because they lost a child and they want something there.”

Angelica Foreman’s father is buried at the cemetery. She said she believes Monday was “just another meeting.”

“I come whether they like what I bring or not. We will just take it month by month,” Foreman said.

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