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Castro Park Board Prez Forced Out

by Matthew S. Bajko

Pink Triangle Park and Memorial in the Castro
Pink Triangle Park and Memorial in the Castro  (Source:Rick Gerharter)

Amid growing concerns of his leadership overseeing the upkeep of a San Francisco monument to LGBTs killed by the Nazis in World War II, the president of the Eureka Valley Foundation was forced to resign this week.

The volunteer group is responsible for Pink Triangle Park and Memorial in the city's gay Castro district. The roughly 3,000 square foot triangular park is located at the northwest corner of Market and Castro streets (bordered by 17th Street). It features a memorial consisting of 15 pylons created by artists Susan Abbott Martin and Robert Bruce.

At a board meeting Monday night, John Goldsmith was informed if he did not voluntarily resign as the foundation's president then his fellow board members would move to oust him. He officially tendered his resignation Tuesday morning, though he will continue to be a member of the foundation's advisory board.

"It was a forced resignation," Goldsmith told the Bay Area Reporter in a phone interview Wednesday morning.

He said the actions he has taken to try to repair and maintain the monument have been misconstrued and led to him being vilified by his critics.

"I am upset because I have become an object of hatred and I have experienced intimidation and harassment," said Goldsmith, adding that his sole intent has been "working for solutions regarding the instability of the art."

In a statement to the B.A.R., the foundation said that Goldsmith had agreed to step down at the Monday meeting and would now "focus his efforts on volunteer beautification in the park as volunteer custodial gardener."

The board said "it is incredibly grateful for the work John has done over the past couple years in shifting neighborhood focus to the park, and will continue to work with him on an advisory capacity as the baton is passed on."

The foundation also announced it would hold a series of community meetings in the coming months "to discuss the vision of this beloved neighborhood park."

As of Wednesday, the foundation's website had been changed to say that its treasurer Steve Clark Hall was the acting president and chairman of the board. Reached Tuesday, Hall said he did not attend Monday's board meeting due to being on a business trip in Argentina.

He expects to return home this weekend and plans to soon after convene a board meeting to elect a new president to oversee the foundation.

While the park property is under the jurisdiction of San Francisco Public Works, the artists own the artwork. The foundation is an offshoot of the Eureka Valley Neighborhood Association that was created in 2007 "as a means to support the maintenance, improvements, beautification and outreach" of the park, according to its website.

As the B.A.R. noted in a story last fall about plans to improve the park, Goldsmith is a master gardener who had volunteered to lead the foundation and oversee plans to renovate the site. It not only needed new vegetation and an irrigation system, but a number of the pylons need to be repaired and the park needs a new ADA-accessible entrance into it.

Working with the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District, the foundation had won a $100,000 community challenge grant from the city last summer. The money was to be used to address the maintenance issues at the park and build the new entrance, while the CBD agreed to launch a fundraising drive to pay for fixing the damaged pylons, estimated to cost $40,000.

The CBD was in the middle of planning a fundraiser late last year for the park when the foundation unexpectedly informed its executive director, Andrea Aiello, that it no longer wanted to work with the CBD and asked for the grant money to be returned to the city. Nonetheless, the foundation did want the fundraiser to proceed, which it did and brought in $4,851 for the park project.

Goldsmith insisted this week that the grant money had never been finalized because the foundation in the fall refused to sign off on accepting the award. The issue, he said, was that the foundation was not listed in the paperwork as the sponsoring organization and the CBD as its fiscal sponsor.

"In the application they named themselves as the project administrator. They put me in a volunteer position," said Goldsmith. "Basically, it was a hostile land grab."

Goldsmith also said that the foundation had expected the grant amount to be $10,000 and was surprised to learn it was 10 times that amount.

"The CBD steamrolled it. It was very disappointing and upsetting," he said. "Some people think I am a hero because I stopped the CBD's overreach."

Aiello told the B.A.R. this week that she "had no idea" the foundation had issues with the grant until it informed the CBD of its decision to turn down the money. She said when the initial grant application was submitted in February 2017 it did not include the foundation because at that point the board had yet to form and the EVNA had signed off on it.

"They were all too happy to have the CBD apply for the grant. They said with your blessing and support, we will use the grant and manage the improvements," said Aiello. "In August we got notice we received the money. All of a sudden there were a lot of problems and a lot of concerns."

After Goldsmith raised objections about the grant not only with the CBD but also city staff overseeing the funds, Aiello said the CBD board instructed her to inform the grants manager "we are bowing out. My board said if the Eureka Valley Foundation feels it is now strong enough to take care of the park and raise its own money, then give it back to the city. So I did."


Other Issues

Another issue arose after Goldsmith began discussing plans to reposition the layout of the memorial and it pylons with various city staff, community leaders and the artist Martin. That prompted a number of people to register concerns with the Public Works department.

Larry Stringer, deputy director of operations for the agency, sent Goldsmith and the foundation board a letter March 12 informing them that no alteration "to any of the physical elements on site" was allowed "without the prior consultation, review, and approval of our department."

This week DPW spokeswoman Rachel Gordon told the B.A.R. that the agency sent the letter to ensure the proper process is followed for undertaking any work at the park.

"If anyone wants to change that park, they can't just go and do it unilaterally," she said. "Someone needs to make a formal proposal and go through the public process. This is public land even though it is taken care of by a private group."

Also this month Jacob Janzen, an attorney for Martin, sent a "cease and desist" letter to Goldsmith to express the artist's opposition to seeing her artwork altered in any manner. Janzen also reminded Goldsmith that the artwork, in effect, is on loan to the city by the artists.

"It is not now, nor has it ever been Ms. Martin's intention to transfer title of the sculpture to the EVF. Ms. Martin hereby affirms that she retains legal title to the sculpture and has no intentions of transferring that title at this time," wrote Janzen, who did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

According to foundation board members, the two letters came as a surprise and prompted them to make inquiries about the matter. It also led to greater scrutiny of Goldsmith's rejection of the grant money from the city, the B.A.R. has learned.

"There was, as far as I know, no plan to do anything other than maintain the park," said Hall, who told the B.A.R. he found the correspondence "a little awkward" and "really bizarre."

He said he thought "our plan was let's get a plan."

Goldsmith said the need to alter the site came from an arts conservator who had recommended to the city that the pylons be taken out for repairs and then "reset on one singular base so they are more defensible and more stable." Not only have they been vandalized and damaged over the years, but also they are sensitive to the vibration of the adjacent roadways, said Goldsmith.

"I was trying to prevent a disaster," he said. "I was following their recommendation because they have to come up to be repaired. The bolts are rusting. There is rebar inside the pylons that are rusting."

He said he intends to remain involved because he wants to protect the site and ensure it is properly maintained.

"I am trying to improve the park and preserve its message to be a welcoming site for international visitors and local visitors," said Goldsmith. "And I am met with resistance from a few key people."

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