A paradise lost

first_imgSANTA FE SPRINGS — Discarded cigarette butts, beer cans, paper cups and other trash litters the grounds of Paradise Memorial Park, a now-closed and neglected cemetery that many people believe is far from living up to its moniker. “The last time I visited, it was very painful for me to see the condition of the yard,” said Toni Moore, who has more than 30 relatives buried there, including her brothers and her great-grandmother. Whenever she visits their graves, Moore brings along garden tools and bottled water. The water is for the cemetery’s grass, which is brown and dry. She uses the tools to clear dirt, leaves and spider webs away from the tombstones. Seven years after state officials took over Paradise Memorial Park amid a scandal involving the illegal moving of remains — setting up a special fund to maintain the property — relatives of the deceased, city officials and residents who live near the cemetery say very little upkeep work goes on there. The Cemetery Memorial Fund, a nonprofit organization of three board members, was created to oversee the money. The fund also owns and manages the property. But Moore and others believe the nearly $2 million the fund received for cemetery maintenance has been inadequate. Mike Arias, who was lead council for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit and is now a Cemetery Memorial Fund board member, said Paradise’s main problems are lack of money coming in, vandalism and board members with little time to raise money. “We hope the city understands we need some of their help,” he said. “We don’t have the economic resources to do some of these things. I’d hate to see a situation where the cemetery can’t be maintained and the city has to take it over.” But Audrey Hughley, the board’s chief financial officer, blamed Arias and the accounting firm he hired for some of Paradise’s problems. According to her, it was Arias’ and the accounting firm’s decision to deposit the money into an investment account to develop interest. But the returns from that investment have been less than expected, she said. Rather than earning about $100,000 a year for cemetery upkeep, the account’s interest has brought in only about $320,000 over the past six years, said Hughley. She said that a large part of that money was used to pay the accountants. “We’re out there trying to manage the cemetery, but the actual management seems to be going into the hands of people we don’t want, like accountants and bankers,” Hughley said. Meanwhile, the situation at Paradise appears to be getting worse, and no one seems to have a solution. Inside the burned-out shed, tombstones that were moved more than a decade ago are stacked against walls. Some have been chipped away by vandals and weather. A well that supplies water was vandalized and has not worked for weeks. Garden tools have been stolen by vandals. Whittier police have received 26 reports of vandalism at the cemetery since 1996, said police spokesman Officer Alan dela Pena. “This is simply a matter of respect for the deceased and a breakdown of responsibility for who should be maintaining the cemetery,” said Ashworth, who was surprised to see discarded children’s toys, fireworks and fresh beer cans littering the property. “We can all agree without controversy that the property is not being maintained at the level it deserves, but I’m not looking to point fingers,” he added. Hughley admitted that vandalism, financial set-backs and lack of management have meant that the board “can’t ever get past just getting the grass cut.” “This is the worst its been,” she said. “We had break-ins in April, July and August. They stole equipment, victimized a new tractor and broke the water pump. We can’t do anything about what’s happened in the past. But we can make changes now.” Sandy Mazza may be reached at (562) 698-0955, Ext. 3026, or by e-mail at [email protected] local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREThe top 10 theme park moments of 2019 “It’s an attractive nuisance –meaning that it’s attractive to kids and vandals,” said Paul Ashworth, Santa Fe Springs’ assistant to the director of planning and development. He inspected the cemetery grounds on Oct. 4 and found problems. “The shed poses a risk of collapse,” he said, referring to an equipment shed that burned two years ago but is still at the site. The state Cemetery Board took over the property in 1995, after an investigation revealed that thousands of graves had been resold and that remains had been dug up and left in a mound of dirt. The families of those whose graves had been desecrated then filed a class-action lawsuit against its managers, Alma and Felicia Fraction, and other mortuaries they claimed were aware of the fraud. The Fractions received jail time and fines, and the lawsuit’s plaintiffs received an $8 million settlement. The state used $1.8 million of that amount to set up an endowment for the cemetery’s maintenance, since it was no longer operational and not generating money.last_img

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