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Protesters try to disrupt Milk plaza meeting

by David-Elijah Nahmod

A rendering of the semi-final design for Harvey Milk Plaza shows the entrance at Castro and Market streets, left. Photo: Courtesy Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza/Perkins Eastman
A rendering of the semi-final design for Harvey Milk Plaza shows the entrance at Castro and Market streets, left. Photo: Courtesy Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza/Perkins Eastman  

A small but vocal group of protesters attempted to disrupt a community meeting Tuesday night as the Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza unveiled semi-final architectural designs for the new Harvey Milk Plaza and transit station at the corner of Castro and Market streets.

The protesters, who were holding up signs that said, "Polish not Demolish," did not elicit a response from other meeting attendees.

"The neighborhood doesn't want this," said John Goldsmith, a 26-year resident. "What is its carbon footprint? We didn't ask for this - it's a significant LGBTQ site already."

There have been mixed reactions to the plaza redesign from the beginning. Designers and the Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza envision a sweeping new public space, while others were critical of initial renderings and wonder how the space will avoid becoming a magnet for homeless people.

The Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza started on the project last year, planning to incorporate plaza changes with accessibility improvements led by the San Francisco Metropolitan Transportation Agency.

At Tuesday's meeting at Sanchez Elementary School, most attendees seemed happy with the redesigned proposal, which comes after four possible designs were displayed at previous forums. At the earlier meeting attendees filled out comment cards on what they liked and didn't like about each design. Those comments were used by Justin Skoda and McCall Wood from the design firm of Perkins Eastman to come up with the semi-final proposal.

Perkins Eastman won the design competition for the project, following an online vote.

Significantly, the stairs and elevator remain at the Castro-Market corner, set back to allow better circulation with approximately 100 square feet of additional area, Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza member Erin Elliott told the Bay Area Reporter in an email. The entrance is below an elevated "public square"-type feature.

Before construction can begin, the proposal must be submitted to the San Francisco Public Works, the San Francisco Arts Commission, Civic Design Review, and SFMTA.

"Each will have a review period and then they'll make and take suggestions," Skoda told the B.A.R.

Skoda also addressed the removal of mature trees and the reduction of planted open space as revealed in several of the proposals.
"The plantings will be disturbed because of the nature of construction and excavation," he said. "New plantings will be put in. Palm trees' lifespan are 25 years, they will be replaced with regular street trees. Some city agencies may want specific types of vegetation."

The final design will include inspirational quotes from Milk, who became the first openly gay person to be elected to office in California and San Francisco when he won a seat on the Board of Supervisors in 1977. Milk and then-mayor George Moscone were assassinated a year later by disgruntled ex-supervisor Dan White.

There would also be a portrait of Milk, added accessibility for the disabled, and "Castro's Perch," a flight of stairs leading up to the top of the canopy at the station entrance, where visitors would be able to take photos or just gaze upon the neighborhood. As before, Skoda and McCall emphasized that the new plaza would honor the struggle for LGBTQ rights.

Howard Grant, a gay retired architect who designed the Castro Muni station and several others, was not happy with the proposal and was supporting the protesters.

"What is the compelling reason to demolish and replace a busy transit hub?" Grant asked. "Ostensibly it was to better honor Harvey Milk. But there are ample opportunities to make the memorial more impressive and memorable within the plaza envelope. The Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza have never demonstrated why that is not possible and have not expressed any concern for the disruption to hundreds of Castro residents and tourists who use the Castro station daily."

Grant also feels that the money being spent on the redesign could be put to better use. "If Harvey Milk were able to raise $10 million today, would he spend it on housing for homeless youth, low income AIDS/HIV survivors, community services, or demolishing and replacing a vibrant transit hub?" he said.

The Friends group is in the process of raising $10 million for the project.

Others at the meeting took a different view.

"I'm delighted," said Daniel Bergerac, who sits on the steering committee of The Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza and is president of Castro Merchants. "I think what we see today will go through the city - the final design may not exactly be like today, but that's how design works."

"The Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza have been receiving community input since January 2017," said Andrea Aiello, executive director of Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District and president of the Friends group. "We have created a new plaza based on input from literally thousands of people. The images revealed tonight take into account all this feedback. There is overwhelming support to rebuild Harvey Milk Plaza and to create a fitting tribute to Harvey Milk."

As before, comment cards were handed out to meeting attendees so that they could offer their opinion on the final design. Those comments will be posted at https://www.friendsofharveymilkplaza.org/.


  • CastroDaddy, 2018-05-18 14:28:34

    "Small, but vocal"? That is an understatement. I was there and the "protesters" were one guy in the back of the room, standing by himself and largely ignored by the others. Every now and then, he’d shout some odd rant about random topics. Honestly, the guy seemed unhinged. People I talked to seemed supportive of the project, though most were concerned about street people moving into the new space.

  • Jungle Smith, 2018-05-20 14:29:24

    Thats me! I am unhinged because our history and culture is going to be bulldozed for a vanity/boondoggle project. Its bad for the environment, bad for tourism, bad for businesses, commuters. Shame on the carpetbagging desecrators!

  • Jungle Smith, 2018-05-20 14:36:17

    Honor our gay elders! Honor Howard Grant the lead architect for the Castro Muni/Metro - - that the "Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza" never contacted! He is with us and his vision deserves renovation and modernization, not its destruction!

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