Colma is Running Out of Cemetery Space

Cemeteries in Colma are nearing their capacity, confronting that city and its memorial parks with some grave problems.

Colma has long been known as the home to 1,000 times more dead people than living people, and that’s becoming a problem. The tiny town of Colma is merely two square miles, and nearly 75 percent of that space is devoted exclusively to cemeteries. Now those cemeteries are nearly full, and San Mateo County officials are getting dead serious about where to bury future bodies.

“It should concern a lot of us because where are we going to go?” San Mateo County Commissioner David Canepa tells KPIX. “It’s about dignity and respect and taking care of those people and making sure we honor their memories.”

Colma is the final resting place of 1.5 million dead people (and counting), but just over 1,500 living residents. It’s fun lore that San Francisco moved all of its dead bodies to Colma between 1915 to 1948, and deceased San Franciscans continue to fill the graves at places like Holy Cross Cemetery and Cypress Lawn Memorial Park. Some of those cemeteries project they can keep accepting bodies for a few more decades, others for only a few more years.

“Something is going to have to change in Colma at some point,” Colma Historical Association docent Rich Rocchetta tells the San Francisco Chronicle. “Each cemetery is different, and each cemetery has different amounts of space. Some of them have very little space.”

The Chronicle notes that some of Colma’s cemeteries will fill within five years, others have as much as 40 years worth of ongoing vacancy. This morbid mix of supply and demand has led to a rise in cremations, and makes the cemeteries get more creative in how they use their space.

“To say we have five years left is not giving the right message to the market,” Cypress Lawn president Robert Gordon tells the Chronicle. “And I’m always finding land inside our developed areas that I can open, or sell differently.”

Cypress Lawn is considering buying up the defunct Cypress Golf Course and converting that into cemetery space, though some Colma residents are lobbying the city to build affordable housing there. Regardless of what happens to that golf course acreage, the problem of accumulating graves in Colma can only be solved with some sort of plot twist.


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