TASSAJARA VALLEY -- Cattle and horses roam the hills of rural Tassajara Valley just beyond the sprawling subdivisions of San Ramon.
If Danville developer Sid Corrie has his way, this scenic valley beneath Mount Diablo could be home to 150,000 new residents -- all buried six feet under.
"It's going to be gorgeous," Corrie said of his plans for a $43 million cemetery there. "We'll spend a fortune doing it."
But convincing environmentalists and upset residents that using precious water to green up 221 acres of cemetery plots and sharing the road with funeral processions is a good idea will be a hard sell.
"I don't want to sit on top of the knoll and watch people bring in caskets on Sunday," said Tim Clancy, who lives on 33 acres next to the site. "I don't want to sit on my porch and drink my coffee and watch people cry over the graves."
While there is no shortage of Bay Area plots, there is no burial space left in the fast growing San Ramon Valley. Corrie said San Ramon, Danville and Alamo locals, as well as transplants from the Midwest or Asia, want to be buried where they live and he thinks it makes a convincing argument for a new cemetery.
This project has been in the works for nearly eight years. Contra Costa County Planner Demian Hardman said he is wrapping up the project's final environmental report and it could be before the county Planning Commission by March.
If all goes Corrie's way, the cemetery could be
Creekside Memorial Park -- which would have a 50-year capacity and include a chapel, indoor and outdoor mausoleums and extensive landscaping -- would be built on 221 acres at 7000 Camino Tassajara. Irrigation water would be pulled from wells.
Most of the cemetery would be on flat land just off Camino Tassajara. Private family mausoleums would be on a ridgetop.
Creekside would be similar in size to Holy Sepulchre in Hayward, but smaller than Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma, that has 356,000 burial plots on 204 acres, and another 200 years of capacity. Rose Hills Memorial Park and Mortuary in Whittier is the country's largest cemetery. It is approaching half a million burials on 1,423 acres.
In addition to 150,000 burial plots, Creekside would have space for cremation remains.
"To me a cemetery could work out there if it wasn't too water intensive and if it fit in with the land," said county Supervisor Candace Andersen. "I will say there definitely is a need for a cemetery in the San Ramon Valley. We have the Alamo Cemetery, but it is already booked."
Danville, Alamo, Blackhawk, Diablo and parts of San Ramon are in the Alamo-Lafayette Cemetery District. Residents pay district property taxes and are entitled to low-cost burials in the district's public cemeteries in Alamo and Lafayette.
Lafayette Cemetery has about 400 spaces left, but all Alamo burial spots are sold, said Patricia Howard, the cemetery district manager. It does have room for cremation remains.
"I would love to be buried in the area," said former San Ramon Mayor Abram Wilson, a long-time proponent of Corrie's project. "This plan could work. It's financially sound. It's not growth-inducing. It would open up open space in perpetuity. And there's a need. I'm going to be the first one to buy a plot there."
Project opponents are well organized and have made their voices heard at previous county meetings on the project.
"Primarily, it's a water issue," said Bill Newman, a partially retired cattle rancher who owns about 100 acres next to Corrie's land. "It's all wells out there. It's what you pull out of the aquifer is what you use out there. If we lose our water we're kind of stuck."
Newman runs a website, called stopthecemetery.org, that outlines the project and concerns of neighbors. He said the cemetery will have a negative effect on the valley's rural nature and destroy the ridgeline. He also questions the need for such a big cemetery.
Also, "It would probably drop property values," he said. "Some people won't buy near a cemetery."
Newman has a large circle of Tassajara Valley contacts he can rally when needed. Their concerns have shaped the environmental report being prepared by Hardman.
Seth Adams, land programs director for Save Mount Diablo, said he has concerns with the project. The area is a hot spot for rare and endangered species, including the California red-legged frog, burrowing owl, American badger, tiger salamander and various plant and bird species.
"We've been following this project for literally years," he said. "It could potentially preserve a significant amount of open space, but we are opposed to the ridgeline section of the project. That would be the most visible part of the project and the most damaging."
Corrie said the need for a cemetery should override the opposition. "Everybody is going to die and they are not going to be shipped back to Indiana, believe me," he said. "You could not pick a less conspicuous site for a cemetery. It's a perfect location."
Contact Jason Sweeney at 925-847-2123. Follow him at Twitter.com/Jason_Sweeney.