Sabra Johnson was with her husband at a funeral in Whitter when he took a moment to marvel at the size of the burial ground — a Rose Hills property.
"He was just in awe of all the space. But I'm like, this is California. Eventually, there will be no more space. What happens then?" Johnson said.
The future of our earthly remains is often a subject people push to the furthest corners of their minds. After all, prolonged consideration of mortality regularly leads to an uncomfortable amount of introspection.
But the morbidity of the query didn't deter Johnson from submitting her question to KPCC's #SoCalSoCurious.
"What happens when a cemetery is full?" - Sabra Johnson
Tyler Cassity, president and co-owner of Hollywood Forever Cemetery, volunteered to help answer that question.
"California is one of the leaders in the nation in having a very sound long-term care policy," Cassity said. "It's mandated that whenever a burial takes place, a portion of that payment is put into an endowment care trust."
Once a cemetery is filled, the endowment care trust is designed to handle maintenance of the grounds indefinitely.
The mandate was put in place in 1955. Before then, setting funds aside was optional.
Currently, privately owned cemeteries are required to set aside a minimum of $4.50 per square foot for each grave they sell. For cremation niches, it's $70, and for crypts, it's about $200. The fees are usually paid by the person buying the spot.
Cemeteries are allowed to charge more — many do.
Every year, the Cemetery and Funeral Bureau runs an audit, just to make sure cemeteries are keeping up.
Hollywood Forever Cemetery, which currently holds around 90,000 interments, has about $10 million set aside.
"Even with our water bill, the endowment can take care of the actual maintenance of the cemetery if we all had to leave or if the operations of the business were no more," Cassity says.
But that's unlikely to happen anytime soon. Cassity says he just got approval to build a new community mausoleum and columbarium — a structure that will hold about 25,000 crypts and 25,000 niches. At the current interment rate of about 1,000 per year, he says that the cemetery has another 50 years before it fills up.
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