TASSAJARA VALLEY -- Cattle and horses roam the hills of rural Tassajara Valley just beyond the sprawling subdivisions of San Ramon.
If Danville developer Sid Corrie has his way, this scenic valley near Mount Diablo could also be home to 150,000 new residents -- all buried 6 feet under.
"It's going to be gorgeous," Corrie said of his plans for a $35 million cemetery there. "We'll spend a fortune doing it."
The investment may well pay off: No burial space is left in the fast-growing San Ramon Valley. Though there are plenty of plots elsewhere in the Bay Area, Corrie argues that San Ramon, Danville and Alamo locals want to be buried where they live.
Keeping a cemetery green will require a lot more
"I don't want to sit on top of the knoll and watch people bring in caskets on Sunday," said Tim Clancy, who lives on 33 acres next to the site. "I don't want to sit on my porch and drink my coffee and watch people cry over the graves."
The project has been in the works for nearly eight years. Contra Costa County planner Demian Hardman said he is wrapping up the final environmental report and it could be before the county Planning Commission by March.
The cemetery could be approved as soon as June.
Creekside Memorial Park -- which would have a 50-year capacity and
Most of the cemetery would be on flat land just off Camino Tassajara. Private family mausoleums would be on a ridgetop.
Creekside would be similar in acreage to two of the Bay Area's largest cemeteries but with less capacity. Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma has 356,000 burial plots on 204 acres and an additional 200 years of capacity. Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland has 175,000 burial plots on 230 acres with quite a bit of acreage left.
Rose Hills Memorial Park and Mortuary in Whittier is the country's largest cemetery. It is approaching a half-million burials on 1,423 acres.
In addition to 150,000 burial plots, Creekside would have space for cremation remains.
"To me, a cemetery could work out there if it wasn't too water intensive and if it fit in with the land," said county Supervisor Candace Andersen, of Danville. "I will say there definitely is a need for a cemetery in the San Ramon Valley. We have the Alamo Cemetery, but it is already booked."
Danville, Alamo, Blackhawk, Diablo and parts of San Ramon are in the
A plot and burial at the Lafayette Cemetery costs $4,250. Corrie said he hasn't run the numbers on how much it will cost at Creekside, but "it will be very competitive," he said.
Lafayette Cemetery has only about 400 spaces left, and all the Alamo burial spots are sold, said Patricia Howard, the cemetery district manager. Both have room for cremation remains.
"I would love to be buried in the area," said former San Ramon Mayor Abram Wilson, a longtime proponent of Corrie's project. "This plan could work. It's financially sound. It's not growth-inducing. It would open up open space in perpetuity. And there's a need. I'm going to be the first one to buy a plot there."
Project opponents are well-organized and have made their voices heard at county meetings on the project.
"Primarily, it's a water issue," said Bill Newman, a cattle rancher who owns about 100 acres next to Corrie's land. "It's all wells out there. It's what you pull out of the aquifer is what you use out there. If we lose our water, we're kind of stuck."
Hardman said hydrologists are testing wells to determine how much water is in the aquifer.
Newman runs a website, www.stopthecemetery.org, that outlines the project and neighbors' concerns. He said the cemeterywill have a negative effect on the valley's rural setting and destroy the ridgeline. He also questions the need for such a big cemetery.
Also, "it would probably drop property values," he said. "Some people won't buy near a cemetery."
Newman said he has a large circle of Tassajara Valley contacts he can rally when needed. Their concerns have shaped the environmental report being prepared by Hardman.
Seth Adams, land programs director for Save Mount Diablo, said he has concerns about the project, too. The area is a hot spot for rare and endangered species, including the California red-legged frog, burrowing owl, American badger, tiger salamander and various plant and bird species.
"We've been following this project for literally years," he said. "It could potentially preserve a significant amount of open space, but we are opposed to the ridgeline section of the project. That would be the most visible part of the project and the most damaging."
Corrie said the need for a cemetery should override the opposition. "Everybody is going to die, and they are not going to be shipped back to Indiana, believe me," he said. "You could not pick a less conspicuous site for a cemetery. It's a perfect location."
Contact Jason Sweeney at 925-847-2123. Follow him at Twitter.com/Jason_Sweeney.