Herman: New rules would restrict grave decorations at city cemeteries

The Austin Parks and Recreation Department on Thursday released long-awaited proposed new rules for the five city-owned cemeteries.

Four years is long, right? Even in the cemetery biz. And Tonja Walls-Davis, the city cemetery manager, expects the proposed rules, including tight restrictions on grave decorations, will draw the same kind of objections voiced in 2013 when the city tried to force the removal of lots of such decorations.

“For the most part, all we did was just update the rules,” she said, acknowledging that, if enacted, the rules would force the removal of decorations on many graves.

RELATED: City rules will force removal of grave decorations

The decorations, Walls-Davis said, have become a big problem for “maintenance and manpower.”

“Our mowing cycle has been highly impacted by the amount of time our guys have to get off the mower to remove things,” she said. “And then it’s a hazard.”

Mowing and maintenance also were the primary reasons given for the aborted 2013 effort to force removal of some ornamentation and benches.

To be sure, some of the graves at Austin Memorial Park on Hancock Drive (where, coincidentally, I will be selecting my plot next week) have been festooned over the years with items some folks might think are inappropriate in a cemetery, including college banners, solar-powered lights, sporting goods, wind chimes, benches and containers of the deceased’s adult beverage of choice.

Back in 2013, before complaints forced the city to pull the plug on the proposed enforcement, Gilbert Hernandez, then the city cemetery manager, told me “hundreds, if not into the low thousands” of the 25,000 graves at Austin Memorial Park might have been out of compliance for various reasons.

WATCH: Austin cemeteries include some nontraditional memorials

A notice on the city website back then said: “This effort is to address a number of complaints that the city has received regarding the addition of benches, statuary, trellis, permanent pavers, vegetation and other memorials that are not permitted as per cemetery rules.”

The proposed rules announced Thursday say “an ornament or decoration” is permitted if “placed on a memorial” is “no longer than six inches in any dimension” and “the ornament or decoration will not interfere with mowing or other cemetery maintenance.”

In addition to Austin Memorial Park, the other city-owned cemeteries are Evergreen Cemetery, 3310 East 12th St.; Oakwood Cemetery and Oakwood Annex, 1601 Navasota St.; and Plummers Cemetery, 1204 Springdale Road.

The 2013 attempt to restrict decorations brought impassioned opposition from some Austinites who had buried relatives in Austin Memorial Park. But the effort was supported by some people who believe the decorations had gotten out of hand and were inappropriate.

Walls-Davis is expecting to hear from folks upset about the proposed restrictions.

“I’m expecting that,” she said. “I’m preparing for that.”

RELATED: City approves master plan for public-owned cemeteries

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Opinion

Letters to the editor: Sept. 25, 2018
Letters to the editor: Sept. 25, 2018

Query: What are the Republican senators and Chuck Grassley afraid of? What is President Donald Trump afraid of? They all do not want an FBI investigation into the events leading to the accusation of sexual assault, attempted rape of Dr. Ford, by then-high school student Brett Kavanaugh. Why? Many years ago, during another Supreme Court Justice Senate...
Commentary: Fathers need to remember that their sons are watching

CHICAGO — What’s it like to be a boy these days? It’s a frequent thought for me as I navigate my son’s 17th year of life in a world where the scourge of toxic masculinity shares the public consciousness with admiration of spectacularly muscled sports stars and big-screen superheroes whose worth is predicated on their physical...
Facebook comments: Sept. 25, 2018

Recently the American-Statesman’s Lori Hawkins and Shonda Novak gave an update on development on South Congress Avenue, where a number of construction projects are under way. Some of the projects include The Magdalena, a Liz Lambert hotel under construction at Music Lane and Academy Drive with a projected fall 2019 opening; Saint Vincent, a three-story...
Opinion: The burden of proof for Kavanaugh

Last week, I wrote a column taking the view that conservatives supporting Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court because they hope he will overturn Roe v. Wade should be willing to encourage his withdrawal if his accuser testifies credibly against him and the cloud over his nomination can’t be expeditiously cleared up. Even if...
Opinion: Is Senate committee equipped to grasp Kavanaugh allegations?

For all their well-learned politesse, the Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have scarcely been able to conceal their determination to get Christine Blasey Ford out of their hair. Ford is the last obstacle to confirming conservative Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court. And she’s a formidable one. She has alleged...
More Stories