It’s Your Funeral

Posted January 28, 2010 in News

What if it was your funeral? What about if you got involved beforehand, say on a cemetery board to make sure your final resting place was in good shape? And while you were at it you got a fancy title, something to boost your resume, maybe even get a foot in the political scene?


Riverside County Supervisor Bob Buster is looking for applicants for an appointment on the Elsinore Valley Cemetery District board. The board of trustees (Picture yourself, trustee so-and-so) services 96 square miles, including all or parts of Lake Elsinore, Wildomar, Canyon Lake, Meadowbrook, Quail Valley and unincorporated areas in Sedco Hills, Lakeland Village and Canyon Lake. 


There are at least six candidates so far, according to Robert Coliva, a Buster staff member. 


The cemetery crosses into three different supervisorial districts: the first, third and fifth districts, but it’s mostly in the first district. The board consists of three trustees. Rose Tompkins, who spent 30 years working for a school district, called it quits after 14 months to truly enjoy retirement. Who needs politics when you can spend your time doing feel-good volunteer work instead?


But then how stressful could a cemetery board get? We looked into it for you.


In early 2005, torrential rains flooded Riverside County, causing plenty of damage to the more than 100-year-old Elsinore Valley Cemetery. Now you might think that was just Mother Nature’s fury unleashing and call it good, but you would be wrong. Mother Nature opened up a can of worms, no pun intended.


Prior to the stormy weather, the cemetery board sent numerous letters to the board of supervisors, the city of Lake Elsinore, Caltrans and Riverside Flood Control starting in August 2004 asking for help. There was a filled retention basin of previously permeable soil across the freeway where a Lowe’s shopping center was built and Caltrans’ lack of culvert maintenance and debris clearance, according to a Riverside County Grand Jury Report released in June 2007. 


The City of Lake Elsinore’s engineer approved the plans for the Lowe’s shopping center, as well as one for a Home Depot shopping center, which also caused significant problems for the cemetery, according to trustee Richard Staley. 


“We have a stack of correspondence,” says Staley, who has served on the board since 1999. “We tried to get them to mitigate some of the problems we saw. The projects were permitted anyway.”


All those problems combined meant that the storm runoff from the other side of Interstate 15 tunneled straight into the cemetery, causing considerable damage. The western portion of the property was once Home of Peace, a private Jewish cemetery. 


The burials follow kosher law and the caskets are not covered in cement before burial. During the flooding, some of the caskets nearly floated away. County fire crews sandbagged. Thing is, somebody saw it coming—those pesky trustees.


In a Press-Telegram article not long after, one of the supervisors talked a little dirt. He indicated that the board did nothing to properly prepare for the flooding. 


Adding insult to injury, Riverside County voters in zone three approved Prop. F in 1986, authorizing the sale of $8 million in bonds to finance flood mitigation improvements in the Lake Elsinore area, including the Arroyo del Toro Channel, which the cemetery is part of. It never got done, and voters are still paying off the bond. Prices went up, and budgets were cut.


Of the 11 projects authorized by that bond, only four were completed. So here comes the high-and-mighty Grand Jury Report two years after the storm, and get this: it says the board of supervisors and the city must provide written communication forevermore whenever the Elsinore Valley Cemetery Board of Trustees makes a complaint. 


Apparently, that didn’t go down very well. And the county’s response to the Grand Jury? Hey, the city did it too.


So, still interested in the job? 


Those who are interested in being considered as a trustee can contact Supervisor Buster’s staff by phone at (951) 955-1010 or e-mail Meetings are the first Wednesday of the month.


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