A local cemetery operator has about a week to complete a permit to lawfully operate his green burial site or the county will shut him down.
For more than a year and a half, Ed Bixby, originally of New Jersey, has been renovating the cemetery located just south of Half Moon Bay.
Bixby continues to operate Purissima Cemetery, despite county officials saying he is doing so without the necessary permits.
“We operate on a daily basis,” Bixby said in a recent interview with the Review. “We are doing exactly what a cemetery does.”
San Mateo County planning officials say Bixby is operating without proper paperwork. They say he is required to have a use permit and a coastal development permit. Additionally, Bixby is tasked with completing a survey of the property.
“The county zoning hearing officer agreed with staff and expressly ordered that both a coastal development permit and a use permit are required,” said Deputy County Counsel Brian Kulich. “That order is final.”
In 2018, San Mateo County cited Bixby for operating and developing the cemetery without the necessary permits. Bixby appealed the citation. He has since applied for the permits, but the application remains incomplete, according to Kulich. Bixby now has till Aug. 30 to complete the application.
“Bixby is required to submit proof that he owns the land,” said Kulich. “To date, he has not provided sufficient proof.”
Bixby operates three other cemeteries through the country, in addition to Purissima. He says he was moved to enter the business after his brother died, as he worked to maintain the gravesite at Steelmantown Natural Burial Preserve.
He also serves as president of the Green Burial Council, a nonprofit that raises awareness and serves families seeking natural burials.
Green burial refers to using caskets made of natural materials and burying people without the use of embalming fluids. Plots at Purissima range from $3,000 to $5,000, significantly cheaper than traditional burial methods.
Bixby stated the county was misinformed about cemetery law and that he does not need a permit to operate.
“I do not need a permit,” Bixby said. “We existed before these agencies.”
Bixby claims the property was foreclosed upon illegally decades ago. It now belongs to him, he said, because he took it through adverse possession. Essentially, the process refers to squatters’ rights that can transfer title based on the property’s history of use. Bixby said he filed all the necessary paperwork and paid taxes on the property.
“It is a real plus for San Mateo County to have this one-of-a-kind facility in their backyard,” Bixby said, insisting he is owner of the property and that there are no operating issues at Purissima. “We are very busy and are pleased to serve the coastal communities.”
Kulich will recommend denial of any incomplete application from Bixby.
“The county will take all steps to enforce the hearing officer’s order, including, if necessary, legal action to prevent illegal operation of the cemetery,” Kulich said. “However, we hope to avoid that result and will continue to work in good faith with Bixby to resolve this matter.”