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Cypress Lawn Cemetery Association Sues BART to
Protect Deceased and a Piece of California's History

Business Editors & Legal Writers

COLMA, Calif.—(BUSINESS WIRE)—Aug. 28, 1997—Cypress Lawn Cemetery Association has filed suit against Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) and San Mateo County Transit District (SamTrans) alleging the agencies have violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by failing to identify appropriate mitigations for the massive impacts the construction and operation of the BART extension to San Francisco International Airport would have on Colma cemeteries.

The planned extension cuts directly through eight Colma area cemeteries, including Cypress Lawn Memorial Park.

Cypress Lawn has been negotiating with BART and SamTrans for more than two years to identify mitigations that would reduce or eliminate significant adverse environmental impacts of the project, such as noise, vibration and dust on the sacred, tranquil atmosphere of the cemetery.

BART is currently violating its own project approvals by having put the project out to bids before reaching an agreement with the cemeteries with regard to appropriate mitigations. This lawsuit seeks to preserve the unique role that Cypress Lawn plays in the San Francisco Bay Area by requiring BART and SamTrans to fully and properly comply with CEQA before undertaking the project.

As one of the oldest cemeteries in California and the burial grounds for many California pioneer families, Cypress Lawn preserves a piece of California's history. This history can be read on the tombstone etchings of the deceased and seen through some of the earliest examples of American West art and architecture, including the largest collection of stained glass in the country, located in the memorial park. Cypress Lawn is also a living memorial to the thousands of Californians interned in the cemetery, which is visited daily by friends and family of the deceased.

The critical issue, according to Cypress Lawn's attorney Rollin Chippey of the San Francisco based law firm Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison, is that BART's Environmental Impact Report (EIR), a report that is supposed to outline mitigations for the impacts of the project and is required by California law, does not adequately protect the cemeteries from the project's impacts, especially impacts to the historic structures and the sanctity of the burial grounds.

For many of the impacts, the EIR does not identify any specific mitigations measures relating to the cemeteries. Instead, the project approvals defer mitigation to a future agreement, without even specifying standards to be achieved by that agreement. Cypress Lawn's lawsuit challenges the certification of BART's EIR on the extension project in order to protect the cemetery from unmitigated impacts.

"As custodians for more that 300,000 Californians interred at Cypress Lawn, we have an obligation to protect their final resting place, to protect the tranquillity for visiting friends and family and a historic obligation for future generations of Californians who can visit a small part of history within our memorial park," said Ken Varner, President and CEO of Cypress Lawn.

CEQA requires project developers to adopt all feasible mitigations necessary to ameliorate any environmental damages that may occur as a result of the project. "Cypress Lawn is not asking for any special treatment here, they are only asking BART to comply with CEQA regulations. We filed suit against BART and SamTrans because we were unable to achieve resolution to our disagreements after months of negotiating with BART and because BART went ahead with putting the project out to bid without reaching this resolution.

"We want to make it clear that Cypress Lawn is not and has never been opposed to the extension project, we simply want BART to abide by California's environmental laws that were established to ensure that cemeteries' sacred grounds are not desecrated," Varner stated.

Chippey reiterated that the action Cypress Lawn took in filing suit against BART and SamTrans does not mean Cypress Lawn wants to stop negotiating with BART and SamTrans to find some acceptable resolution to this matter. "The last thing we wanted to do was go to court over this matter, but BART forced us to take this action to protect our position when BART allowed the bid process to begin without first reaching a final agreement with Cypress Lawn as specifically required by the project approvals. If BART is willing to sit down again, we are more than willing to continue discussions."

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CONTACT: Barnes Clarke
Bill Barnes, 415/788-1000

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