In a 1st, Pelosi secures $500K from feds for Harvey Milk Plaza project

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Thursday March 14, 2024
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A rendering shows an overview of the Memorial at Harvey Milk Plaza. Illustration: Courtesy SWA Group via Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza<br>
A rendering shows an overview of the Memorial at Harvey Milk Plaza. Illustration: Courtesy SWA Group via Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza

Congress allocated a half-million dollars in funding toward the Memorial at Harvey Milk Plaza revitalization project, according to a news release from the Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza. This marks the first federal dollars allocated toward the project.

Congressmember Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) spearheaded the allocation, the release stated, which came from the House Subcommittee of Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development.

The funding was signed into law by President Joe Biden March 9 as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2024. It had been approved by the House of Representatives 339-85 on March 6.

"In San Francisco, we take immense pride in being home to the iconic Harvey Milk: a trailblazing leader for freedom, equality and justice," Pelosi stated in the release. "By redesigning the plaza named for Harvey, our city will create a world-class civic space in the Castro neighborhood and improve transit rider access to the Castro Street Muni Station.

"It has been my privilege to fight for federal funding in support of this transformative project that will revitalize the community and reimagine Harvey Milk Plaza for residents and visitors to enjoy in our beautiful City by the Bay," she added.

The project aims to reconfigure the public parklet above the Castro Muni station to make it more accessible and honor its namesake, who was the city's first openly gay elected official when he won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. Milk took office in January 1978 but was assassinated, along with then-mayor George Moscone, 11 months later by disgruntled ex-supervisor Dan White.

While in office, Milk was a big supporter of public transit. The plaza was named in his honor in 1985.

Brian Springfield, a gay man who's executive director of the Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza, told the Bay Area Reporter in January that the friends' group, which has had a "quiet" capital campaign ongoing since at least last year, needs to raise about $35 million. Some of that money has already been raised, Springfield said, including about $1 million in private funds and $3.3 million in public funding.

Of the public funding, $2.5 million was secured by gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco).

Springfield stated that "this allocation is an initial investment of federal funds for the project. Previously, Senator Weiner has secured two [state] grants (for $1M and $1.5M) for the project, the second of which was directed to Public Works specifically for the production of construction documents (CDs) for the new plaza. Just last Friday, the CDs reached 30% completion, with 100% completion expected later this summer."

Springfield added that San Francisco Mayor London Breed has allocated $550K to the project, which he said was used to navigate the required city approvals from SF Arts Commission, Historic Preservation Commission, and the planning department.

The San Francisco Examiner last November reported that Pelosi had asked for $5 million in the Fiscal Year 2024 federal budget for the redesign. A spokesperson for Pelosi told the B.A.R. that she was only able to get $500,000 of that initial ask from the House GOP.

While the allocation she did secure is far below what she reportedly was seeking, Springfield stated in the release, "We are deeply grateful for the support of Speaker Emerita Pelosi in the U.S. Congress."

"This allocation is a testament to the importance of LGBTQ+ representation in our nation's commemorative landscape, and specifically, to the importance of the Harvey Milk Plaza project's promise to foster a sense of belonging, promote inclusivity, and encourage ongoing civic engagement around issues impacting our community's efforts to achieve our full civil rights," he continued.

No new date for town hall

As for community meetings about the project, it is not known when an abruptly postponed January forum will be rescheduled.

As the B.A.R. previously reported, Springfield postponed a "buzz-raiser" — "We're Here to Recruit You" town hall — at the former Harvey's restaurant and bar space at 18th and Castro streets that was to be held January 25.

Afterward, the Instagram account gay.shame stated a Queers for Palestinian Liberation march, which had also been scheduled for the Castro that evening, had been postponed, as the B.A.R. reported.

"A victory, kinda," the account posted. "As we know the #GAYS4GENOCIDE crew, including Scott Wiener, Rafael Mandelman and all their understudies were scheduled for a public event in the Castro on Thursday night. Rather than face trans/queer people anti-imperialists in the City they canceled."

Wiener and Mandelman, who are both Jewish, had been listed speakers for the plaza forum.

Asked about a rescheduled meeting, Springfield stated March 14 that no new date has been selected.

Many LGBTQ people have been involved in protests supporting Palestine since shortly after October 7, when Hamas terrorists went into Israel and killed 1,200 people in the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust. Israel responded with an extensive bombing campaign in the Gaza Strip, governed by Hamas, and a ground invasion, which has led to the deaths of at least 30,000 Palestinians, according to media reports, making it the deadliest conflict in the region in over four decades.

Mandelman, a gay man who represents District 8, which includes the LGBTQ Castro neighborhood, on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, voted against a ceasefire resolution that was before the board in January. Wiener also opposed the resolution, the San Francisco Standard reported.

After being pressed for months, Biden said during last week's State of the Union, "We've been working nonstop to establish an immediate ceasefire that would last for at least six weeks. It would get the hostages home, ease the intolerable humanitarian crisis, and build toward something more enduring." He also announced a new "temporary pier" in the Mediterranean Sea to provide humanitarian aid.

SF mayor offers thanks

Regarding the federal funding for the plaza, Breed had made the initial request for the money in early 2023. In the release she thanked Pelosi.

"Thank you, Speaker Emerita Pelosi for supporting the redesign of Harvey Milk Plaza at the Castro Muni Station," the mayor stated. "This project will help make necessary accessibility improvements, while creating a beautiful community gathering space that teaches and preserves the legacy of Harvey Milk and our LGBTQ community."

Wiener stated, "To the LGBTQ community, there is no more hallowed ground than the neighborhood that gave the world Harvey Milk and the movement he led."

"This funding will begin a long-needed renovation to honor that legacy by delivering transit and public space improvements that will allow the Castro to thrive for decades to come," Wiener continued.

Mandelman also thanked Pelosi via a post on X.

"Many thanks to @SpeakerPelosi for securing $500k in funds for the Harvey Milk Plaza/Castro Station redesign," he stated. "This project will improve public access to the plaza, create a park setting, and invite people to learn more about Harvey and his legacy."

Mandelman told the B.A.R. on March 14, "This is, you know, a significant chunk of change and we still need to identify and lock down much more to get the station renovated and make it into the iconic space that we want it to be but this, this is a great step along the way. We're incredibly grateful for Speaker Emerita Pelosi for coming through for the community yet again."

The Milk plaza project is meant to coincide with other changes at the site, such as a separate $11.5 million project to construct and install a new four-stop Castro Muni elevator, as the B.A.R. previously reported. Work on it began last year, and San Francisco Public Works expects the elevator to be operational by early 2026.

The new elevator had first been proposed in 2016, as the current elevator for the Castro Muni Station is across the street from its main entrance near Pink Triangle Park where 17th Street meets Market Street, which can be hard to access for wheelchair users and others with mobility issues. If out of service, then there is no way to access the station without using stairs or an escalator.

Updated, 3/14/24: This article has been updated with additional information on the federal funds and a comment from Supervisor Rafael Mandelman.

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