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[whitespace] Neighborhood association mobilizes against crematory

Sunnyvale--One of Sunnyvale's largest neighborhood associations is seeking to stop a crematory from being built in their residential area.

In a meeting on June 14, the Heritage District Neighborhood Association held a public forum. They supported their position against the city, using maps, letters, studies and testimonials from citizens in other communities.

The association argued their property values will decrease as a result of the ash, odor, noise and toxins the crematory will produce. According to the association, research shows up to a 20 percent decrease in property value, when a crematory is located in a residential area. The association insisted the burning of human bodies in a residential neighborhood would leave residents and businesses to endure fine ash, unpleasant odors and toxic residue, lowering the quality of life in their community.

In their efforts to stop the construction, the association has already filed a lawsuit against the city of Sunnyvale based on two points. They argue residents weren't given proper notice. According to association Co-president Michael Gulasch, 50 percent of residents didn't get the proper mailed notice. The second point concerns land use that prohibits expansion of a grandfathered nonconforming use, in a residential area. "The biggest issue that we are concerned about is incompatibility," Gulasch said. "They are building a business inside a residential area." Members of the association have suggested the Loma Linda neighborhood, at a cemetery as a better alternative location.

The boundaries of the neighborhood at stake stretch from Mathilda, Fair Oaks, and Maude avenues, to El Camino Real, yet members of the association say the crematory will affect more than just that particular community. The crematory will be just two blocks from downtown restaurants and markets at 174 North Sunnyvale Ave.

On December 12, 2000, the city council granted the Wyant and Smith Mortuary a "use permit" to operate a human crematory by a 6 to 1 vote, with Mayor Jack Walker as the sole dissenter.

Councilman Manuel Valerio said there is a need for a crematory in Sunnyvale. "There are no facilities like that close by. People have to be done outside the city, which creates further delay for the families," he said.

Valerio added he sees no real disadvantage, or threat, by having the crematory in a residential area. "The crematory passed all the requirements set by the Bay Area Air Quality District, in order to get their regulatory license," he said. "So, there would be no health threat. I have reservation of the property value going down, because I think, if you are in the area, you aren't going to realize or perceive anything from something that is quiet and unseen."

At the meeting, the association provided evidence of disturbance from other neighborhoods. "We've gotten unsolicited letters from residents that live in other neighborhoods describing the odor and noise," Gulasch said. According to Gulasch, filters help with noise and pollution.

"When we were talking to the planning commission, they assumed filters were being installed," Gulasch said. "We found out there were no filters, meaning it really doesn't meet regulations from air management. We reviewed the two site sheets, and we don't think the noise will be mitigated in any way."

He added, "Other cities require the crematories to be at least 200 meters away from residential areas, but here they just let the Bay Area Air Control make the decision. Bay Area Air Control Management doesn't have anything to do with location. They handle the equipment regulations, not where the things are sited, but the city thought that it was in their jurisdiction to make this kind of decision," he added.

Carcinogen and dust based on risk factors, Bay Area Air Management estimates at 550 bodies burned per year, there will be an increased cancer risk of 10 in 1 million. "That's only on the condition that the facility uses the highest toxic-control technology," Gulasch said. "Moreover, they didn't run this analysis at our location, they only did it from 30 meters." He added this fact should make the permit invalid.

The Wyant and Smith Mortuary have the authorization needed for installation, and the crematory has been under construction for several weeks. Still, association hopes their full house of supporters will be able to stop the crematory before it starts to operate. They are waiting for a court hearing date so they can proceed.
Gretchen Knaup

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