OAKLAND -- Residents are up in arms with what's happening at the historic Mountain View Cemetery on Piedmont Avenue, where hundreds of trees are being removed and plans are being considered for massive earth-moving and pond reconfiguration.
The privately owned, 226-acre cemetery is removing 100 to 200 eucalyptus trees around three ponds in the northeast corner, cemetery General Manager Jeff Lindeman said.
"There are conservation folks who disagree, but they are fast-growing trees that encourage poison oak growth and create a habitat harmful to native California plants and animals," he said, adding that eucalyptus trees are an extreme fire hazard.
The cemetery also has plans to move tons of earth from a hill to fill in the canyon area just below Coaches Field in Piedmont. Ultimately, the project would create a new area for gravesites. That corner of the cemetery lies within Piedmont's borders. An easternmost pond within the city's borders would be eliminated. Plans also call for "daylighting" and re-establishing the cemetery creek that runs through that area.
The project within Piedmont's border is subject to environmental review, permits and inspections, Piedmont City Planner Kate Black said.
"It's no different to my knowledge than any project within city limits," she said.
Oakland resident David Cohen walks the cemetery every day.
"The (cemetery) does a lot of good work. But I do have an issue over how the ponds are being managed and how they handle the watershed," Cohen said. "I am questioning, not accusing. It is shocking and painful to see the ponds being drained and the tree cutting.
"Are they managing the ponds in a way friendly to wildlife? Is what they are doing to save their water bill? The state has rules regarding water usage on private and public land. To a large extent, the cemetery flies under the radar," Cohen said.
Lindeman explained that when the pond "reservoirs" that supply irrigation to the cemetery dry up in summer, Mountain View buys water from the East Bay Municipal Utility District.
"Last year, we spent $225,000 for water," he said. "We are experiencing dry years and rising water rates. We are testing an old well on the grounds to determine if we can renovate it."
As for the hundreds of trees removed now and earlier, Lindeman said other species would be planted in their place such as redwoods, maples and oaks. Seeing the denuded hillside and bulldozers is upsetting, resident Bill Ruth said.
"It got me stirred up. A few weeks ago, I saw all the equipment 15 feet below Coaches Field. Filling that canyon will destroy a lot of the views for houses on Moraga. That massive earth moving project will be quite an eyesore," said Ruth, who is a retired private city planner.
Resident Marjorie Blackwell also walks the area daily near the cemetery.
"The cemetery cannot fill in wetlands without a permit," she said.
During the public hearings for Blair Park, Lindeman proposed a similar canyon-filling plan whereby a soccer field could be built below Coaches Field. Piedmont Recreational Facilities Organization rejected the plan saying it was cost-prohibitive.
"We have no plan for a soccer field," Lindeman said of the new project, "We want to make a proposal a win-win for everybody. Our foremost mission is to prepare Mountain View for the future."
Black met with Lindeman on Tuesday, when they discussed the cemetery's long-range plans for the work.
"The cemetery will have to pay for and identify the environmental impacts with both Oakland and Piedmont, " she said. "There would be public hearings at some point with both cities."
Black said the plans are in the preliminary stages, but said that the cemetery would like to move forward.