Austin city cemeteries to begin enforcing gravestone ornament rules

City-owned cemeteries in Austin are working to finalize rules regarding what items can be placed on gravesites.


Thursday, the Parks and Recreation Department held their final public comment period to discuss the restrictions.


Parks and Recreation staff said the rules have actually been the same since 1978, but have not been enforced for decades.


When they considered doing so in 2013, public outcry stopped the city from moving forward with the idea, which is why this time around public opinion is a bigger part of the process.


“To a certain extent this is part of the memory of my daughter and so it's important to me,” said Steven Weintraub whose daughter has been buried in Austin Memorial cemetery for the past 12 years. 


Weintraub said when he visits his daughter's grave he often leaves mementos and finds ornaments that help him remember how loved she was.


Jewish tradition is you leave a rock and we've left a handful of rocks, but most of the rocks on my daughters grave were left by other people,” said Weintraub. 


Now that the Austin Parks and Recreation Department is planning to enforce the almost 40-year-old rules in city cemeteries, Steven worries the mementos left for his daughter will be lost.


“They want to strip it down almost to a military cemetery. This isn't a military cemetery, these are families,” Weintraub said. 


“We want to be able to make the maintenance and the care of the cemetery easier,” said cemetery manager Tonja Walls-Davis. 


Davis said because of the abundance of items left near gravestones, groundskeepers are having trouble getting their job done.


“It's added about 15 days to our mowing cycle,” Davis said. 


Certain things left in the cemetery have also become a safety hazard according to Davis.


“Our mowers, they don't see the glass, and as they're rolling over the glass, the projection of that glass shooting out of the mowers is very dangerous,” said Davis. 


That's why Parks and Rec staff want to begin enforcing the city cemetery rules. Which means, among other things, ornaments can be no larger than six inches and must fit on the memorial. Benches won't be allowed. Neither will alcohol. Flowers need to placed in a vase on the memorial and anything that interferes with mowing will be removed.


“We don't want to take away the expressions of grief, but we just ask that you do it within some guidelines,” Davis said. 


All the gardening on Steven’s daughter's grave would be in violation as well as many of the ornaments left there.


Steven hopes that day never comes.


“I understand the safety concerns, but by the same token these are sacred places and over 12 years this has become a very sacred place to me,” said Weintraub.


Austin Parks and Rec said the public will now have 31 days to comment on the proposed rules which are posted at clerk’s office and online.


Once the restrictions are finalized, the public will have 90 days before enforcement begins.


People concerned about a certain item are encouraged to discuss it with the cemetery manager.

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