For more than a year, Ed Bixby has worked to transform an all-but-forgotten cemetery just south of Half Moon Bay into a green burial site. He estimates that he has buried about half a dozen people there in that time.
San Mateo County planning officials say, however, that Bixby has done so without the necessary permits and has given the New Jersey resident and president of the Green Burial Council until Dec. 17 to apply for a use permit and coastal development permit. If he fails to do so, the county has ordered Bixby to remove the wooden ramps, maintenance shed, gate, bench and signs that he has placed there. He has until Jan. 16, 2019, to comply, according to county officials, who outlined their request in an Oct. 23 “Letter of Decision.”
Bixby is a developer and real estate broker by trade who fell into the green burial business when he had a desire to spruce up the Steelmantown Natural Burial Preserve, where his brother is buried. Bixby says he is now the owner of four cemeteries, including Purissima. He says he knows what he’s doing and has no plans to apply for the permits because they are unnecessary.
“I am grandfathered in prior to their rules and regulations,” Bixby wrote in an email to the Review.
Dave Holbrook, senior planner for San Mateo County, did not return repeated requests for comment. Last year, he told the Review that the area was zoned for agricultural use and that including new burials, which would be a legal but non-conforming use requiring a permit.
The Coastside Land Trust owns the Purissima Old Town site that neighbors the cemetery and the nonprofit has concerns about Bixby’s use of the property. Trust administrators question whether Bixby actually owns the site.
“We support the concept of green burials,” said Coastside Land Trust President Paul Reidl. “We just want the appropriate processes to be followed to make sure that he’s staying on his land and not coming onto ours.”
Bixby says he acquired the property through adverse possession, a legal concept sometimes called “squatters rights” that can transfer title based on a history of use of the property. He said he filed all the necessary paperwork and paid all the back taxes that were due.
“Because the property was in tax default and no one was stepping forward, I claimed it through this process, which is a nationally accepted practice,” Bixby wrote to the Review.
Bixby says he has no intentions of applying for the permits and when the deadline arrives he says he will continue “business as usual.”
“There will be a lawsuit in the works if (the county) continues down this path,” he wrote.