'It made my stomach turn,' Couple reacts to unkempt conditions at city-run cemetery, city responds

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (KGO) -- Part of building a better Bay Area involves properly maintaining areas meant for the living and the dead.

In the South Bay, a couple visiting family buried at a cemetery in Santa Clara say they found unkempt and overgrown conditions at Mission City Memorial Park (MCMP).

MCMP along North Winchester Boulevard is one of two City cemeteries maintained by the City of Santa Clara.

On Saturday, a gut feeling guided Dave and Athena Pereira to visit family buried there.

"We could see all the raised tombstones," Athena Pereira described. "But the ones that are on the ground, the gravestones, it was just all grass and weeds."

The Pereira's had no luck with locating the grave of Dave's grandparents, on Saturday. So, the couple returned to the 25-acre park on Sunday morning to continue searching.

"We came determined with a string trimmer and everything. And the leaf blower to make sure that we weren't going to leave here until we found the grave," Athena told ABC7 News.

Hours later, the Pereira's found the gravestone they'd been searching for, hidden under a thick layer of grass.

Dave spent some time clearing overgrowth. He and his wife shared "before" and "after" pictures showing the difference a few moments made.

The couple returned Tuesday to find dozens of City workers, clearing the overgrowth.

"What we're seeing here is night and day compared to what we saw just two days ago," Dave said.

The City of Santa Clara said it pulled resources from other parks maintenance staff to get things in order, following the Pereira's initial visit.

However, work is far from finished. ABC7 News noticed a number of gravestones still buried under a layer of grass.

"Distinctly, this area behind us is the war veteran area and it's the worst-kept in the entire property," Dave Pereira said. "It just made my stomach turn, for sure."

A statement by the City of Santa Clara read in part, "The amount of labor required to accomplish the more detailed grounds maintenance at MCMP has recently increased with the discontinued use of Roundup (a toxic chemical which was used in the past to control weeds and grasses around headstones, flat markers, curb lines, and pathways)."

The City explained it has three full-time maintenance staff and two part-time staff who are currently responsible for cemetery grounds.

Even so, the Pereira's are upset and question how gravesites can go untouched for so long.

"These people have all paid money to the City to be laid to rest here, and to have these areas maintained by the City," Dave said.

The City is also reaching out to the community for scheduled "Volunteer Work Parties" to help keep things in order. Volunteers will work MCMP on October 5th.

The statement from the City continued, "We welcome those who may wish to assist us on upcoming cemetery volunteer maintenance days and invite them to contact us to schedule a 'Volunteer Work Party.'"

Dave responded, "For them to try to set up volunteer days to have the public come do the work for them, it's just, it's sad."

The City of Santa Clara said it is also reviewing long-term, permanent staffing levels and evaluating alternatives to chemical-use strategies that are more efficient for maintaining the MCMP in the long-term.

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