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A woman carrying a bucket walks back and forth between a rusty water faucet and her mother-in-law’s grave. She throws water on the plot, which is the only green area surrounded by acres of brown.

Leslie Letrán waters the grave because cemetery workers don’t. “We come at least twice a month to water,” she says. “It’s hard to maintain. It shouldn’t be us.”

Evergreen Cemetery holds an important place in the lives of many people both in and outside of Boyle Heights, either because they have someone buried there or because they live in the community.

At 136 years old, it is the oldest cemetery in Los Angeles. More than 300,000 people are buried there, including musicians and actors, Japanese American war veterans and former mayors and council members of Los Angeles.

Today, family members and politicians are pushing for improvements in the caretaking of the cemetery. Covering more than 67 acres in Boyle Heights, Evergreen serves not only as a place to visit the deceased, but also as a green space in a neighborhood with few open areas.

Drought or neglect?

Cemetery officials have blamed the dry grass on citywide drought restrictions from the Department of Water and Power. But city water officials say the cemetery is not watering as much as it could because of its antiquated irrigation system and lack of staff.

Robert Estrada, a DWP Water Conservation Specialist, believes there are several reasons why Evergreen Cemetery looks the way it does. He notes that the cemetery’s watering system is old and likely has broken pipes.

“You get the pressure, but not the flow,” he says. “The gap between sprinklers is why it never gets green.”

Another problem, Estrada says, is that Evergreen does not have an automatic watering system. Its manual system requires staff to actually be on the grounds to operate the sprinklers.

Current restrictions limit watering on residential and commercial properties to three days a week, before 9 a.m. or after 4 p.m.

Richard García, the grounds supervisor at Evergreen Cemetery, confirmed Estrada’s suspicion that the staff is not watering the entire cemetery three days a week. The grounds staff works from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and does not have enough time to turn on all the sprinklers, he says.

Not enough time

“We can’t do the whole cemetery in an hour and a half,” he says. “We barely get the cemetery covered in the week.”

Jonvive Anguiano, 34, has four generations of family buried in the cemetery and is not happy about the conditions. She started a petition on change.org to gain community support to force better management of the cemetery.

After six months, Anguiano has 750 supporters. Looking around while visiting the grave of her mother, she says, “It looks desolate. It doesn’t look like other cemeteries that I’ve seen.”

She adds, “They don’t care because their loved ones aren’t here. I don’t think they care enough.”

While other cemeteries, like Forest Lawn and Rose Hills, use recycled water or underground wells, García, the grounds supervisor, says that Evergreen lacks those options.

Recycled water is not available on the Eastside. DWP officials say a new irrigation system would be costly and not a likely investment at an old cemetery where there are few plots available to sell to bring in new revenue.

Over the years, Evergreen Cemetery has faced many complaints. The cemetery is owned by Tony Soo Hoo.

For more than a decade, Soo Hoo has been on probation with California’s Department of Consumer Affairs Cemetery and Funeral Bureau for violations, including grave desecration and failing to document the location of burial sites.

Soo Hoo did not return phone calls from Boyle Heights Beat.

Anguiano, the petition circulator, says, “Many people have the same anger and love I do about the cemetery because of their loved ones, and they want to see something done about it because it is a part of their community.”

Both DWP and cemetery officials pointed out that there are hoses on the cemetery grounds, and community members may water their family plots.

The cemetery’s state of neglect also caught the attention of Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina. Calling it “Never green,” Molina has gotten involved in an effort to force management to revitalize Evergreen. She has gone to water the cemetery, and now has members of her staff monitoring to make sure watering is taking place.

“I think it’s not only the disrespect of the dead,” she says, “but the disrespect of the community.”

6 Responses

  1. Teresa Marquez

    The fact about Evergreen Cemetery, that they are following LA water ordinance, not only the cemetery but many household have allowed their grass to dry up, We do not have sufficient water for the people, lets not use it for green grass. Also, no one complaint about the issue, until Community of Friends and ELACC Development started to built across from the cemetery, is it really for the love ones or the view for the new development that will impaired the view of the rest of the community, with no notification of the project to the community. The question is: what is the best way to utilize the water? for the people or the cemetery, the cemetery can landscape it in a way to continue to support the water ordinance. LA DOES NOT HAVE SUFFICIENT WATER FOR THE POPULATION IT HOLDS. Most important, as proven fact by DTSC, our grounds are contiminated with lead, arcenic, and benzene and the homes and playground will have to cover the soil because of the contimination, homes should have the first priority for to water their lawns intead of business or cemeteries, were children do not play the dirt.

    Reply
    • rachael

      Have you read a pamphlet from the Cemetery from the last 10 yrs or seen any of the brochures??? The cemetery doesn’t state that is dry and they don’t keep it green. When you plan a funeral you try to choose the best resting place for your loved ones right, and you pay good money for it too. Funerals are expensive but folks are willing to pay because it means your loved one will have the resting place they deserve. Not only is it a blatant disrespect to the people resting there at Evergreen “NEVERgreen”, but it should be illegal to take peoples money to pay for a nice place and getting one as hideous as that place. It’s like staying in a dirty motel forever when you paid four seasons prices, but worse. The reason why prices for funerals are so high is because you’re not only paying for services but investing the cemeterys overhead. The water bill is part of that. I’m just sayin’…
      …I will pray that Soo Hoo gets a holy ghost (a lot of holy ghost) and changes his selfish ways. Im sure he lives in a nice home, drives a nice car, has a nice lil family, and a nice bank account too. I’m also willing to bet he would never bury his loved ones in the hideousness.

      Reply
    • Luce

      If that is the case, then the fees for the endowment care should reflect this. Watering is not all that is wrong with this site, the owners are on probation stemming from their lack of care of another site called “Woodlawn” in Compton which was taken away from them. It is a horrific story. Eight years ago they told me Evergreen was full. Fishy!

      Reply
  2. alicia martinez

    I have our daughter since 4/87 for the last 3 years we go once a week to water our place its beautiful and we cut our own grass, honestly its not fair that we are doing the job of cementary employees hopefully one day somebody listen to our prayers of seeing the cementery green again.

    Reply
  3. ernie

    Evergreen is not full. I know. The endowment paid by everyone enterred should cover these watering costs. Though it is a highly regulated industry there is a big profit from failing to water.

    Reply

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