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Former State Senator Tony Mendoza Hired To Clean Up Artesia Cemetery

THE ENTRANCE to Artesia Cemetery, which has seen mismanagement and has sat in disrepair and neglect for years. Photo by Tammye McDuff.

 

BY BRIAN HEWS 

The Artesia Cemetery District, established in 1882, was the only cemetery in the area for many years, exclusively serving the needs of Artesia, Cerritos, Hawaiian Gardens, and portions of Lakewood, Long Beach, and Norwalk, with the cemetery hosting over forty Civil War Veteran plots.

But in the past decade, the cemetery has fallen into mismanagement and disrepair, including broken sprinklers, invasive weeds and a large number of gophers.

The cemetery earns its revenue from local property taxes (60%), and internment services and the sale of plots (40%), which should have been enough to keep the cemetery in good shape.

But the management team of Joyce Yuetter and Robert Yuetter, relatives of Gretchen Whitney, whom the local high school in Cerritos is named after,  allowed the cemetery to fall into disrepair while losing money for years.

When L.A. County 4th District Supervisor Janice Hahn was elected, she immediately took action, appointing three new Board Members, Artesia Councilman Rene Trevino, Linda Gonzalez, and Hahn’s area representative, Linda Johnson, who was appointed Chair, to help “clean up the place.”

A search to hire a District Manager was started, with the cemetery publicly posting the position on Indeed as well as the SELACO Workforce Development Job Board. 

Forty-one applications were received and five applicants were interviewed by Johnson.

With Johnson’s blessing, the Cemetery Board unanimously approved the hiring of Artesia resident and former State Senator Tony Mendoza, who in 2018, resigned from the California Senate just moments before a vote to formally expel him after a series of sexual misconduct accusations.

The resignation was after a three-month saga that saw Mendoza vehemently deny any improper conduct while accusing his fellow legislators of unfair treatment. 

Mendoza hit the ground running, given a laundry list of actions to be implemented at the cemetery consistent with the inactions of the Yuetters: conducting regular Board meetings; establishing an accounting system; formulating a budget; establishing  payroll procedures; monthly financial and tax reporting; printing sales materials, and, of course, getting rid of the gophers and weeds.

 

 

The Yuetters saw the writing on the wall and immediately resigned their positions.

At a special Board meeting this past Tuesday, meetings that were never noticed to the public until now, Mendoza  discussed the improvements, including those completed on the structures and the grounds.

“The main building was in bad shape,” Mendoza told HMG-LCCN, “we are doing improvements to the building such as a new roof, updated plumbing, and painting inside and out.” 

Major improvements are being made throughout the cemetery including an overhaul of the irrigation system for the massive lawns structure.

“Many of the water lines are old and some completely disintegrated,” said Mendoza, “we also had a severe infestation of gophers, which as you can imagine was a huge problem. We hired a professional company to come in and it took us several months, but we have it under control.”

As soon as the irrigation system is updated, the cemetery will begin seeding and fertilizing the lawns. ”We are going to make sure that the lawn is nice and green. The trees will also be pruned and thinned out in order to promote a healthier growth,” added Mendoza, “we want families to feel comfortable with where their loved ones have been placed.”

A grand re-opening has been planned for Saturday, September 28th at 10:00 am. Supervisor Janice Hahn will be attending, with tours and a reception showcasing the improvements.

Following in the footsteps of the larger cemeteries such as Forest Lawn, the Artesia Cemetery is planning to offer family events inside the facility throughout the year.

Plans are in the works for a Family Movie Night November 2nd to celebrate Día de los Muertos featuring either Disney/Pixar hit ‘Coco’ or 20th Century Fox ‘The Book of Life’. The event will also feature crafts and food vendors.

When contacted by HMG-LCCN Supervisor Hahn defended the hiring of Mendoza, “this cemetery was in disrepair and financial trouble. I needed someone who could turn this cemetery around and Tony is doing that. Tony has lived and worked in Artesia for a long time. He knows Artesia and knows this cemetery. He has already done more this past year to promote this cemetery and get it back in working order than anyone else has in a long time.” 

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