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Sunken headstones, overgrown gravesites infuriate families of those buried at a Los Osos cemetery

Posted at 9:15 AM, Dec 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-20 12:15:32-05

Burying a loved one can be grim but watching their memorial and burial site go from clean and uncovered to buried under weeds and mud is unimaginable. KSBY has received several complaints regarding the deterioration of the Los Osos Valley Memorial Park Cemetery over the past several years.

KSBY Daybreak Anchor, Neil Hebert, took an in-depth look at issues surrounding the cemetery and its maintenance, or lack thereof.

Dignity Memorial, a brand name under Service Corporation International (SCI), has owned Los Osos Valley Memorial Park on Los Osos Valley Road since 2015, the year that customers of the cemetery tell KSBY was the last year it looked remotely nice. SCI has total assets north of $15 billion per their SEC filings.

In an email obtained by KSBY sent in May of this year to a concerned customer of the cemetery, the cemetery’s area general manager stated, “There are over 10,000 memorial sites with markers in the park, most of which need some degree of work. If only 75% of the park needs marker maintenance – that is 7,500 memorial sites.”

He went into detail and told the customer that it would take “7.2 years of 3 people working full time on markers” to resolve the issues.

KSBY spoke with several people that have serious concerns about the cemetery’s upkeep, as well as a local group that penned a complaint to the California Department of Consumer Affairs, Cemetery and Funeral Bureau, citing reoccurring problems regarding Dignity Memorial’s cemetery in Los Osos.

“I thought that his body had been exhumed,” said Renee Maler, whose son, Jordan, is buried at Los Osos Valley Memorial Park, after not being able to find his headstone while visiting.

“We couldn't find him. So yeah, it was horrifying,” said Lisa Martinez of Templeton of her brother who is also buried at Los Osos Valley Memorial Park.

Separate families with the same fear: Where are our loved ones?

Richard Carsel is a San Luis Obispo attorney and the secretary for the San Luis Obispo Ministerial Association, the group that sent a complaint to the Cemetery and Funeral Bureau in June of this year. Carsel chose Los Osos Valley Memorial Park to bury his wife in March of 2021.

“The first problem I had was the night before Jan's burial, March 18th of last year, when they called and said that her grave had been flooded,” said Carsel.

Carsel says the cemetery told him there was a watermain break that flooded her plot, an issue the cemetery claims to have addressed, but the issues snowballed from there. Carsel thinks the Cemetery and Funeral Bureau, part of the California Department of Consumer Affairs that “advocates consumer protection,” isn’t doing their job to ensure the basic maintenance standards at the cemetery are being met.

“We're now dealing directly with the Bureau of Cemeteries, and they are not helpful. They haven't protected the public,” said Carsel. “The only reason the cemetery is in the condition is in this because the Bureau of Cemeteries didn't do their job.”

Jason Sisk-Provencio is a pastor and the president for the SLO Ministerial Association. He has been to countless funerals and burials at the cemetery and says the deterioration started around the time that Dignity Memorial bought the property.

“Every single person deserves to be treated with dignity and respect in their life and in their passing,” said Sisk-Provencio. “They deserve better than what they are receiving right now.”

Sisters Lisa Martinez or Templeton and Terri Warren of Los Osos went to visit their late brother on his birthday, buried at Los Osos Valley Memorial Park, but they couldn’t find his headstone. After complaining to the cemetery, an employee with the cemetery dug up the overgrown sod that covered their brother’s headstone.

“There are plots that are sinking into the ground,” said Martinez. “There are veterans out here. We were here the other day, and they were they were burying a Marine. What's going to happen to him? I mean, World War Two vets are out here; young kids, young brothers and sisters, babies.”

“It looks beautiful from the street, but when you come in here, it's very shabby. There are weeds and markers under there,” said Warren.

Renee Maler’s son, Jordan, a 2015 Cal Poly grad, passed in 2019 from a sudden cardiac issue. He was buried in Los Osos at the cemetery, and his family says they have seen the cemetery’s conditions go from poor to atrocious since Jordan’s funeral.

“We would have never buried him there if there had ever been a thought that something like this could happen and they wouldn't maintain it, let alone get it to the state that I saw it in,” said Maler.

Here’s a statement from Kara Woodward from the office of Senator John Laird regarding the cemetery’s conditions:

"We are hearing from constituents about the cemetery, who have loved ones buried there, and it's an emotional and important issue for them. The office of Senator Laird is exploring the situation. I've personally visited the cemetery and see that there's work to do to improve conditions."

SCI, the owner of Dignity Memorial Los Osos Valley Memorial Park, also sent me a statement saying:

“While it’s true that the park did not meet our customers’ expectations, we have made great improvements over the last year, including a significant investment in our irrigation system, and we have tripled our maintenance staff. We have received consistent inspections from the State of California to ensure we are maintaining the state’s standards.”

Regarding the enforcement of the poor conditions of Los Osos Valley Memorial Park, the Cemetery and Funeral Bureau gave KSBY this statement:

“During a routine compliance inspection in early 2022, a violation of CCR 2333 was observed and the licensee was issued a citation and assessed a $100 fine. The citation was related to an uncontrolled vermin infestation resulting on dirt mounds covering grave markers. The Bureau does not confirm, discuss or comment on complaints and investigations as they are treated as confidential.”

That $100 fine matched the lowest amount of any fine handed out to any cemetery in the state by the Bureau in 2022.

In 2019, KSBY ran a similar story regarding the poor conditions at Los Osos Valley Memorial Park. In a statement to KSBY, the cemetery said there was an invasive weed problem they were working to correct and said:

“Upon completion, the cemetery will begin reseeding to promote new grass growth. We are committed to keeping our properties beautiful and well maintained to ensure our client families have a peaceful environment to visit and remember loved ones.”