Crematorium project likely to move forward
on September 25, 2013
The Superior Court of Alameda County issued a decision at the end of August in favor of the company seeking to build a crematorium at 9850 Kitty Lane in East Oakland, making it more likely that the project will move forward.
The Oakland City Council passed an emergency ordinance in May of 2012 attempting to block construction of the roughly 6,300-square-foot facility, which the company says could cremate up to 3,000 bodies each year. The City argued that the crematorium posed a health risk to surrounding residents. However, the judge in the case found that the City Council failed to present sufficient evidence of a threat to public health to justify preventing the cremation center from moving forward.
“The City does not cite any evidence suggesting that…[it] identified an important or urgent threat to the public health or welfare,” Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo wrote in his decision.
It is unclear if the City of Oakland will appeal. Alex Katz, chief of staff to City Attorney Barbara Parker, said that the City Attorney’s office will have to consult with the City Council before making any decisions on how to proceed.
The company seeking to build the crematorium, Stewart Enterprises, is the parent company of the Neptune Society of Northern California. After Stewart Enterprises obtained a building permit for the site, the Oakland City Council passed an emergency ordinance requiring a conditional use permit (a different and more rigorous permit than the company already had) for anyone who wants to build a new crematorium.
Once the ordinance passed, the City sent a letter to Stewart Enterprises stating that it had to obtain a conditional use permit to build the crematorium. When Stewart Enterprises appealed to the City Planning Commission, its appeal was denied.
“We felt like we were wronged without any real reason for it,” said Michael Miller, senior vice president of Stewart Enterprises’ western division. “We followed their rules and they changed the rules.”
Stewart Enterprises filed a petition for a writ of mandate in the Superior Court of Alameda County on August 31, 2012. Judge Grillo ultimately issued an order granting Stewart Enterprises’ petition on August 29 of this year. A petition for a writ of administrative mandate typically asks that a higher judicial authority (in this case the Superior Court of Alameda County) intercede and challenge a decision by an administrative body–in this case the City Planning Commission. The court ruled that the proposed crematorium will not be subject to the City Council ordinance.
According to Miller, Stewart Enterprises will only make plans for the construction of the new facility after the last of the legal formalities are completed, which is expected to happen in the next several weeks. Once construction begins, it will likely take six or seven months to complete.
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