The E’ville Dead: Apollo Crematory winding down Emeryville operations after protracted legal fight

Published On September 12, 2017 | By Rob Arias | News, News & Commentary

Neptune Society’s Apollo Crematory will begin winding down operations at its Emeryville Horton Street facility and begin its move to East Oakland after a protracted legal fight. The move was initially planned five years ago but was stalled by East Oakland community efforts and an emergency ordinance shepherded by Oakland Councilmember Larry Reid. An Alameda Superior Court has sided with Apollo’s parent company Stewart Enterprises, Inc and the amended planning code to require a major conditional use permit has been rescinded.

The unmarked, corrugated metal building at 4080 Horton between Park and 40th has operated in Emeryville since the 80’s when our city was more of an industrial enclave. In the last two decades, Emeryville has gone in a more residential direction including development of the adjacent Bayside Park retirement community and nearby Icon at Park Apartments. At the facility’s peak of operation, it was said to be among the busiest in the state cremating up to 3,000 bodies per year.

The actual incineration of bodies at the site ceased years ago and the twin smokestacks that once protruded from the facility have been disassembled. The location now primarily serves as a warehouse and actual cremations take place in Colma. The ashes are then transported back to Emeryville where they are stored for family pick-up or delivery.

Efforts in 2006 to move their operations to Richmond were thwarted by community efforts leading Stewart Enterprises to pursue the East Oakland site. Stewart originally received an “Authority to Construct” the crematorium from Bay Area Air Quality Management District back in November 2011.

Advocates branded the 6,100 square foot industrial building a “Mega” crematorium and cited concerns of mercury exposure to neighbors from the incineration of dental fillings. Most of the pollution fear is based on emissions from silver amalgam fillings which is vaporized during the cremation process. The use of silver amalgam in fillings has declined steadily since the 1970s and the mercury emitted from them is said to be a tiny fraction compared to that emitted from coal fired plants.

Stains on the wall of the adjacent Bayside Park Senior Community are some of the last artifacts of the active crematorium.

Under community pressure, The City of Oakland passed an emergency ordinance and amended their planning code to require the additional permitting. The Oakland Planning Commission denied an appeal by Stewart by a 3 to 2 vote. Apollo argued that the pollution fears were unfounded and that offering convenience to families to observe the cremation of their loved ones was a community benefit.

Former SF Gate columnist Chip Johnson called out Oakland Councilmember Larry Reid for fueling the hysteria in this 2014 piece noting the health risks that were used to stall the move “didn’t hold to logic or common sense”.

Two new shiny smokestacks can be seen protruding from the East Oakland Kitty Lane facility.

After a four year legal battle with the City of Oakland, an appeals court ruled in favor of Stewart as detailed in this Oakland City Planning Commission staff report.

“Stewart Enterprises successfully won in court and the Planning Commission rescinded the denial of the developer’s appeal of the city’s decision to require a Conditional Use Permit” according to Oakland Development Planning Manager Robert Merkamp. Merkamp noted that Stewart has since re-applied for these permits with the city and they were finalized this year. The legal decision is limited to Stewart, and any applicant wishing to construct a new crematorium would need to apply for and receive the Major Conditional Use Permit that the PC amended.

Plans for the soon to be vacated Emeryville building have not been discussed but any new development will be subject to height limits and architectural guidelines defined in The Park Avenue District Plan.

Cremation has gone in a more “green” direction as of late with the advent of Alkaline Hydrolysis AKA “Bio Cremation,” Bio Cremation is said to be a gentle, eco-friendly alternative to flame-based cremation or casket burials. It is a quiet process that uses water and potassium hydroxide to reduce the body to its basic elements of bone ash. The process is currently illegal in California.

Neither Oakland Councilmember Larry Reid or Neptune Society spokesperson Margaret Hambrick responded to comment despite several inquiries.

About The Author

is a third generation Californian and East Bay native who moved to Emeryville in 2003. A new parent in the community, he can often be seen walking his French Bulldog rescue "Fiona" around his Park Avenue District neighborhood, traversing the greenway on his bike or enjoying his favorite Emeryville small businesses. Rob's "day job" is as a creative professional.

6 Responses to The E’ville Dead: Apollo Crematory winding down Emeryville operations after protracted legal fight

  1. Anonymous says:

    The stains of the adjacent bayside building you referred to in one of the pics is probably incorrect. First, Bayside was completed in 2010 (after cremation ceased) and due to the poor construction of that building (lack of insulation in the walls) you are seeing the moisture pattern within the walls.

  2. shersuperstar says:

    Catchy headline: “The E’ville Dead” LOL.

    • Rob Arias says:

      Thanks Shersuperstar. I was hoping someone appreciated that. Couldn’t pass it up. Anonymous, I suppose it could be coincidence that the staining seems to follow the trajectory of the emissions so take that observation with a grain of salt I suppose. Thanks.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Get your facts straight.

    • Rob Arias says:

      Are there any particular facts you are disputing? As mentioned in the story, neither Oakland Councilmember Larry Reid or the Neptune Society spokesperson would respond despite repeated inquiries. This makes getting their side of the story difficult. If you have any clarifications, I’d be happy to update this story.

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