San Benito cemetery begins Phase II; One section reserved for children

San Benito officials are considering increasing plot prices at Memorial Park Cemetery after low prices have led out-of-town residents to buy plots whose numbers are limited.

SAN BENITO — The development of Memorial Park cemetery will make way for the city’s first children’s burial ground.

Meanwhile, city commissioners are planning to hold a long-awaited workshop to discuss City Manager Manuel De La Rosa’s proposal to boost the cemetery’s plot prices.

As they plan the cemetery’s second phase, officials are opening the new Baby-Infant Lawn, to include 312 plots, De La Rosa stated Thursday.

Earlier this week, De La Rosa said officials had been considering opening the city’s first children’s section.

“I know there’s been some discussion about having an area,” he told city commissioners during a meeting Tuesday. “Phase I didn’t have a very specific area for these types of burials. So I think it’s been addressed.”

The city will sell the 40- by 24-inch plots for $375, he said.

At the San Benito Funeral Home, Funeral Director Zeke Padilla said the cemetery called for a children’s section.

“From our perspective, there’s a need for that,” he said. “In general, there’s always a need.”

Many cemeteries include children’s sections, Kathryn Koite, manager of the Thomae-Garza Funeral Home, said.

“It makes sense to make an area for children. Other cemeteries do,” she said. “They’re trying to organize the cemetery more, like other cemeteries. Before, there were no children’s spaces. They were just regular-sized graves.”

New urn gardens

Meanwhile, the cemetery’s second phase will include two sections in which to bury cremation ashes.

Officials are opening the Urn Lawn, to include 504 plots measuring 24- by 18-inches, and the Double Urn Lawn, 25, 24- by 30-inches, De La Rosa stated.

Officials haven’t amended an ordinance to set prices for the new urn gardens, city spokeswoman Martha McClain said.

Phase II’s second section

As they develop the cemetery’s long-range plans, officials are proposing Phase II’s second section, to include 4- by 9-foot plots, De La Rosa stated.

Officials, he said, have not determined the section’s number of plots, whose prices have not been set.

Proposed price hike

More than two months ago, De La Rosa proposed increasing plot prices at Memorial Park.

Since then, Commissioner Tony Gonzales, who stands against raising prices, has called for a workshop to discuss the proposal.

“We should have done that a long time ago,” Gonzales said, referring to his call for the workshop. “The prices — everything that has to do with money, the commission is supposed to take care of it.”

Gonzales said residents are concerned prices might be going up at the city’s public cemetery.

“Some people have been calling me — why are they going to increase it?” he said. “I don’t want to make money from it. We need money but that’s the city cemetery. People have relatives there. They want to be close by. Some people live check to check. How can we deny them a place?”

Plans for workshop

During Tuesday’s meeting, Mayor Ben Gomez said the holiday season led to scheduling conflicts that delayed plans to set up the workshop.

“We are working on a workshop,” Gomez said. “We can clear it up pretty soon for the citizens of San Benito. We’re not ignoring anybody.”

Now, the city is charging $950 for an adult’s plot and $375 for a child’s plot.

During a November meeting, De La Rosa told commissioners out-of-towners were buying up many of the cemetery’s plots because prices are lower than those at most area cemeteries.

De La Rosa said he couldn’t stop out-of-towners from buying plots because Memorial Park is a public cemetery.

Meanwhile, he said, grave diggers have hiked their charges about $100.

Prices are so low the city is “subsidizing” burials, he said.

De La Rosa proposed boosting plot prices to make them “more competitive” with those at other cemeteries, where burial costs climb to about $3,500.

Amid debate, commissioners discussed setting prices to allow low-income residents to afford to buy plots.

How we got here

In 2009, the city opened Memorial Park, featuring a black granite monument looming over hometown hero Freddy Fender’s grave site.

As part of the project, officials used $250,000 in economic development money to develop the cemetery, planning to draw tourists to the Grammy Award-winning singer’s grave.

Across 17 acres, officials planned Memorial Park’s first phase to include about 250 plots.

Now, with the original plots sold out, officials are planning the cemetery’s expansion.

At City Hall, officials have opened up a new section of the cemetery, making way for about 576 plots.

fdelvalle@valleystar.com