The Widder Curry Interviews the New Director of Ft. Rosecrans Cemetery

by on August 30, 2013 · 9 comments

in Culture, Ocean Beach, Veterans

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Doug Ledbetter – new Director of Ft. Rosecrans National Cemetery. (All photos by Judi Curry)

By Judi Curry

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Improvements can be seen.

It has been three weeks since the new Director of Ft. Rosecrans Cemetery – has moved into his “lodge”. (When I asked him where I should meet him he told me “at the lodge.” Took me a minute to realize he meant the “private quarters.”)

He is in a wonderful position, because he had the courage to not answer all of my questions with a “I don’t know because I wasn’t here” but said he’d find out. Here is my interview with him from Thursday, August 29th, 2013 at 9:00am.

Let me tell you something about Doug Ledbetter first. He enlisted in the Air Force upon high school graduation and hails from Dayton, Ohio. He never attended college and is where he is because of passion and hard work.

He worked for the National Cemetery Association for 17 years, starting from the ground up – no pun intended – as a caretaker, a grass mower, a headstone cleaner, etc. He dug graves; he helped bury veterans; he was a heavy work equipment operator for 12 years before he decided he would take the Director’s classes that afforded the opportunity to eventually become the Director of Ft. Rosecrans.

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Southeast sector. A logical way to handle realignment

Doug moved here with his wife – a nurse – and three children. (And as I found out at the end of the interview with “Buckeye”, his adorable doggie.) He answered all the questions he could and took me for a 2 hour tour of the cemetery via a golf cart.

Let me begin by saying that there are two contractors doing the work of raising and realigning the headstones, the flat markers, and the private headstones. Additionally, these same contractors are responsible for the turf renovation, restoring retaining walls, etc.

A rough estimate of this work is over $7 million. The contract to work on northeast section was awarded to a contractor based in Bakersfield, and is a “Service-Disabled Veteran– Owned Small Business.” That contract was awarded on March 13, 2013 – and ends on March 12, 2014. More on that in a moment.

Ft Rosecrans 8-29-13 jc smartsignThe second contract, for virtually the same thing but with 2000 more gravesites, was awarded on May 9, 2013 and is to be completed by Mary 10, 2014. This section of the cemetery is in the southeast portion of Ft. Rosecrans and is also a “Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business” and hails from Leesburg, VA.

There is no financial incentive for finishing the project early; and if the work is not completed by the due dates there is a possibility of asking for an extension of completion dates.

One of the questions I asked and Doug was not able to answer for me was that if my first article about the deplorable conditions was written in August, 2012, who was responsible for all of the damage until the March, 2013 contract was awarded?

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Evidence of landslide.

However, it was during this time – or thereabouts – that a new sprinkling system was purchased with 480 new ball valves, and 120 of them failed. All of the sprinklers needed to be turned off and that began the death of the grass. (Fitting – it is a cemetery!) The failure of the sprinklers set off a landslide, that caused dirt and debris to fall into the Navy’s parking lot on the east side of the cemetery. That is currently being repaired.

Additionally, the grass was sprayed – and killed – months ago so that it could be removed and new sod planted. However, Doug was not sure when that happened, and we figured it must have been sometime after the ball valves failed and the writing of my article.

Doug has now put in place the following edict: He must be notified two weeks in advance if spraying is going to take place to kill the grass. The contractors tell him that after spraying it should take 2-3 weeks before it dies. Then there has to be new grading and headstone work. Only then can the new sod be laid. The new sprinklers are currently installed and are ready to function once the sod is laid.

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Sprinklers are working in some sections.

Moving on to the cemetery itself; there is some progress in the area of greatest concern to me – the northeastern section. In some areas the orange barrier “fence” is gone, and it is obvious that realignment of the headstones has, or is, taking place. There is evidence of some broken markers that will be replaced, and those stones that are near trees and had damage will be replaced with flat markers instead of headstones. For the most part they are very old stones, and , because of the proximity to the tree roots, markers are a better choice than a head stone.

To my eye, the way the southeast section of the cemetery is being “renovated” is far superior to the way the northeast section is being done. The contractor there is working on one parcel at a time contrasted to the northeast contractor who attempted to do the entire job at one time. You can see by the picture I took of how much nicer and cleaner the southeast section looks.

I am told that the sprinklers will be installed shortly and the sod to follow as soon as they know for sure that sprinklers are working correctly. I tried to pin Doug down as to WHEN, but agreed with him that it is almost impossible to give a date. The contractor has said that he HOPES to install the sod by the 3rd week in September, but that is subject to everything going smoothly up until that time.

I asked Doug if he thought that we would have access to the grassy areas – or what will be “grassy areas” by the holidays – November-December – and he said there was a good possibility. Again, if everything goes smoothly. I personally think that by the middle of November if your loved one is in the ground you will be able to visit and leave flowers. It may be a little muddy – but at least you should be able to get to them.

Now to clear up a few other things:

(1) Reclaimed water is not being used. The horrific odor coming from the water is because it is so close to the reclamation plant, just down the “road” from the cemetery. It is not harmful – at least Doug didn’t think so – but it smells terrible.

(2) Contractor 2 has good signage telling the public what is going on while Contractor 1 has virtually nothing notifying the public of the reconstruction. The Cemetery itself has ordered signs and they should be up shortly. Granted, it is after the fact, but should help clarify what is going on.

(3) Additionally, Doug will notify me of updates as he is notified, so that I can keep you informed as to changes that might be taking place during your visit.

There is one other thing that I discovered that has me upset.

I noticed that they are replacing some of the 52 beautiful trees they removed with Palm Trees. I fail to see what advantage a Palm Tree will have in this beautiful cemetery. You can’t sit under it for shade; when they are bigger and throw their fronds all over the place with the winds that are always there is the possibility of damaging more headstones – or even your head if you are in the wrong place. I know they are hardy and do not need watering, but they will be in the ground where they will be getting watered. Who needs them?

In summary, overall there is some improvement since my last visit 10 days ago. I pointed out to Doug that I arrived at 9:00am and no worker began working the northeast site until after 10:00am. The contractors only work a 4 day week – so no work is done on Friday’s at all.

I am hoping that with a new Director in charge the progress will be made quicker, for he will keep them accountable to him at all times. He definitely knows what he wants; knows how to get it; and I think the cemetery will breathe new life by the end of the year.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Marilyn August 30, 2013 at 4:19 pm

Good work, Judy. Thanks for caring enough to trek up there to interview the Director.
I agree with you about the palm trees being the wrong tree for a cemetery for the reasons you cite, plus another: they are way overused. City foresters are allowing the tree in every project, even to taking down our beautiful Jacarandas to plant them. They are an inexpensive tree to produce but I’d rather see a phoney cell phone palm than another Wahingtonia or Mexican Fan Palm.

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avatar judi curry August 30, 2013 at 6:51 pm

Thanks, Marilyn. I told Mr. Ledbetter how I felt about the Palms. His answer is amusing – in a weird sort of way – coming from Ohio he LIKES them. Thinks it looks like “California.” Told him to try sitting under one on a hot day while having a picnic. I will probably keep the Palm Trees as another issue to fight! I appreciate your support.

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avatar Mary Cairns September 2, 2013 at 9:52 am

Is there any way to let Mr. Ledbetter know our opinions on the palm trees? As a child, riding out to the Lighthouse, then back through the cemetery, the trees were one place to stop and get shade, sometimes even having lunch there. It’s like adding more insult to replace with palm tress, or to take out healthy trees period. I know how much it cost to trim my two palms every year, and the mess they make, I can imagine yet more costs to their budget for the annual palm trimming. And how many birds nest in palms, versus all the other varieties that are there?

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avatar judi curry September 3, 2013 at 10:49 am

Hi Mary,
Below is Mr. Ledbetter’s answer to me re: the Palm Trees. I think he will have to get a lot of mail for Oakland to change their plans, since some Palms have already been planted. I’d rather see no trees than Palm Trees!

“Typically that stuff comes through me as the director. I also consult with the Agronomist in Oakland on things of that nature if I have any questions. Sometimes when there are construction projects they will add trees, shrubs, and/or other plantings into the project. I have noted the concern about palm trees, and the wish for other types of trees at the cemetery. The challenge with Ft. Rosecrans is space. I personally love trees, but if they have a negative impact on our operations, I don’t like them so much.

Believe it or not, I was thinking over the weekend of some potential ways to beautify the cemetery, and add some trees. Right now, I have several other things I am working on, turf to name one, but this is on my list. ”

At least he is listening!

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avatar judi curry September 2, 2013 at 9:57 am

Good Morning, Mary. I am with you all the way on this. I certainly told him how I felt, and suggested that he continue to read this article as more comments are generated. However, you probably know by now that I will not stop with Mr. Ledbetter. I am drafting a letter to his organization telling them my feelings re: the palm trees. If it is ok with you, I will add your comments to my own.

Thanks for the interest.

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avatar Mary Cairns September 5, 2013 at 8:17 am

Hi Judy, sure, please do add my comments as you wish. Also, maybe if you do go up on Saturday I’d like to tag along if it fits in my schedule. Palm trees just don’t cut it for me. m

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avatar Candy September 2, 2013 at 6:24 pm

Judi, Thanks so much for interviewing Ft. Rosecrans’ new director, getting answers to our questions, & writing this article. I’m glad to hear that things look some better & will continue to improve & that signs are being put up explaining what’s going on. I wish they had used the contractor that is doing a better job for the whole cemetery. I haven’t been to Ft. Rosecrans since you & I went together in July, because it’s been so upsetting to me to see it looking so bad. But now I will go. Thanks!

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avatar judi curry September 2, 2013 at 6:58 pm

Thanks, Candy. Don’t expect green grass where our husbands are. It is still a mess; still muddy; still putting in pipes; still leveling the stones, but it is apparent that progress is being made. Maybe we will go up on Friday and meet the Director, if you gals would like to do so.
Now if I can them to put REAL trees in instead of Palms we have accomplished something.

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avatar judi curry September 2, 2013 at 6:59 pm

Sorry – Saturday, not Friday.

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