On Tuesday, Mar. 24, Mountain View Cemetery at the top of Piedmont Ave. closed its gates to all public access. The cemetery is among a growing list of favorite walking areas for Piedmonters and East Bay residents that have closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The cemetery has been forced to close our gates due to the overcrowding that we’ve been experiencing the last two weeks at the cemetery,” said Kristie Ly, sales and customer service manager at Piedmont Funeral Services & Mountain View Cemetery. Ly said that before the closure there were hundreds of people on the grounds and people were observed gathering for picnics. There was even one report of an individual defecating on the grounds. Ly said the decision also took into consideration the safety of the company’s groundspeople and office personnel.
Along with the cemetery grounds, the office, restrooms, and the mausoleum are closed to the public. The cemetery is now only accessible by staff, people who are making funeral and cemetery arrangements, and people attending funeral and burial services. To promote physical distancing, cemetery personnel will also limit the number of people during services to 10.
To many in the community, the closure hasn’t been an easy pill to swallow. One Piedmonter wrote a formal letter asking the cemetery to reconsider. Others were surprised and saddened to find the gates closed while on their trips to the cemetery.
“It is so hard that it’s closing in a time when all of us need to be able to get out and walk more than ever,” said Piedmonter Maude Pervere. “For a lot of people in my age group, having a place where you can walk side-by-side and still be six feet apart, where it’s beautiful and gives you lots of perspective on the world and on life has seemed like a gift for many years and particularly now.” Pervere understands the tough calls being made to close off popular walking spots and parking lots when people gather too closely. “I especially hope that people who may be gathering too closely will appreciate that they make it hard on everybody else at a time when we all need to be outside and enjoying the gorgeous spring that we’re having despite this very tough time for so many,” said Pervere.
According to Ly, additional security guards have been added at the front gates. On Monday, Mar. 31, Bay Alarm security guards patrolled the grounds, responded to reports of people sneaking onto the grounds and checked off visitors who had appointments. Oakland Police Department swung by at least once to check in with the guards. “People are kinda angry about it, but they leave smiling,” said Bay Alarm security guard Reginald Caldwall about the cemetery closure. “It’s temporary.”
Since the order to remain home except for “essential business” began on Mar.16, people have been seeking places to exercise, seek solace, and enjoy the company of their loved ones. Today, on Mar. 31, the stay-at-home order was extended in seven Bay Area jurisdictions — including Alameda County — for another three weeks to May 3 in order to prevent further spread of the virus. The new order has tighter restrictions including closing playgrounds, dog parks and public picnic areas to public use and closing shared public recreational facilities like golf courses, tennis and basketball courts, and pools for recreational use. As of press time, there are 2,283 individuals who tested positive for coronavirus in the Bay Area. 313 of those cases are in Alameda County. Seven individuals in the county so far have succumbed to the virus, according to the San Francisco Chronicle Coronavirus Tracker.
“We are planning to keep the gates closed until the shelter-in-place order has been lifted,” said Ly. “We are private property, we’re not even a public park and even public parks are closing because of the overcrowding. I do apologize for the inconvenience and it wasn’t an easy decision on our part, but it had to be done.” Ly pointed out the plentiful public spaces where people can still take walks and bike, like the roughly 100 trails covering more than 730 miles around the region. Some East Bay Regional Parks have been forced to close due to overcrowding and to address public and staff safety. Tilden Nature Area, Castle Rock Regional Recreation Area and Sunol Regional Wilderness Preserve were several that recently closed.
The East Bay Regional Park District’s current guidelines suggest:
- Maintain a 6-foot distance from other people
- No groups, gatherings, or meetups (only immediate households should be together)
- No picnicking (Walking, hiking, and running, horseback riding, biking, fishing only)
- Be aware of high-touch points (trail access gates, parking machines, etc. – use hand sanitizer or gloves)
- Keep dogs on leash
- Pack-in, pack-out trash, including dog poop bags (there is limited trash collection during COVID-19)
- Bring water, hand sanitizers, and use restrooms at home before you come (bathrooms and water fountains are closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19)
- Park properly and safely (parking restrictions will be enforced during COVID-19)