The next Harvey Milk Plaza redesign project community meetings are scheduled for 3/3 and 4/7 at Most Holy Redeemer Church Photo: Tony Taylor
Locals Weigh In On The Ten-Million Dollar Harvey Milk Plaza Reconstruction Project
To enhance what exists or reconstruct completely? That is the question on the minds of Eureka Valley locals and Castro Station commuters. After a series of internet surveys last fall, in-person conversations commenced in January to determine the fate of Harvey Milk Plaza and the Muni Metro hub.
The proposed reconstruction led by New York-based Perkins Eastman, the winning design firm from last year’s competition, intends to convert the corner of Castro and Market Street into a community space that offers locals, visitors, and commuters a safe, user-friendly, and inviting public gathering space in the heart of the Castro.
According to Perkins Eastman representative Justin Skoda, “The competition was more of an ideas competition to determine which team has a big idea and is able to take input from different stakeholders, like the city jury, design jury, and be flexible, and listen to people.”
At the first of four community meetings, held Saturday January 27th at Most Holy Redeemer Church, the afternoon began with a room of locals who brainstormed ideas on how best to restore the plaza.
After reviewing the site’s history, attendees heard an overview of how the SFMTA accessibility project fits into the plaza’s redesign.
“We want to make sure people in the community understand [the accessibility project] is happening in its own timeline,” said Skoda.
According to the SFMTA website, as part of a system-wide effort to improve Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) access to Muni transit, the pavement and pedestrian areas around Castro Muni station will be widened, a second elevator will be added to the southside transit entrance, the existing lighting will be replaced, and the pavement above the station will be regraded.
SFMTA predicts construction completion in 2020.
“The main focus of today meeting is to have everyone sit down, talk amongst themselves, and hear what the community wants to tell us,” added Skoda. “We want to hear what everyone thinks.”
The groups were seated at round tables, offering a mixture of different viewpoints. The groups worked together, sharing ideas before coming to a consensus.
“With the recording and documentation of today, we’ll take that information and make the basis of a new design,” said Skoda.
After answering a series of questions that included, “What should a memorial to Harvey Milk feel like?” and “What qualities should a future Harvey Milk Plaza have?” the groups were ready to share.
Castro resident Kile Ozier was first to speak. His group noted that with “the sunken, hiddenness of the plaza [as it is], people can walk through it and not know they’ve been in it. And it’s a built-in opportunity for antisocial behavior and violence.”
“It needs to be and feel very safe with an iconic presence, memorializing what Harvey stood for: coming out, community, and having fun,” Ozier said. “Virtually every movement has started right there and some quality to the architecture [should] could convey that.”
Ozier’s group suggested the installation of a “giant, iconic bullhorn, on its back, straight up, with a big fountain that is a water show at night.”
In 1973, Milk addressed voters in Castro with a bullhorn atop a soapbox in support of his first campaign for San Francisco Supervisor.
“People need to see that they’re at a place when they get off the bus or the train,” Ozier added. “[There should be] something iconic like the clock at Grand Central Terminal.”
Castro resident Kile Ozier says the Harvey Milk memorial should be “something iconic like the clock at Grand Central Terminal.
Last year, Bay Area Reporter reported that the $500,000 donation to support the design competition and subsequent plaza development came from Lawrence Cushman, a gay California man, which gay state Senator Scott Wiener said was made several years ago into a fund at the Horizons Foundation for the plaza’s benefit.
At January’s Eureka Valley Neighborhood Association (EVNA) meeting, the community had mixed feelings about how to enliven the forgettable memorial plaza. During a question and answer segment, residents agreed on the most important component of the plaza’s redesign: safety.
“In any public space, [safety] will always be an issue, how to keep out unwanted urban behavior,” said Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza secretary, Brian Springfield. “The answer is to activate the space, so [the homeless] won’t gather.”
“Jane Warner is as activated as it’s ever been and the place is crawling with [homeless] people at 5am,” said former EVNA president Crispin Hollings.
“We need to come up with something better than a promise to activate the plaza in whatever form it’s in,” Hollings added. “The idea that were going to activate it in the same way as Jane Warner Plaza will result in the same way: an encampment for homelessness. We will stay in a place of fear. You need to come up with something better.”
“The discussion is about to demolish or not to demolish,” added another Castro neighbor. “Why isn’t it working with the existing station?”
“Overwhelmingly, people wanted to honor Harvey Milk in a way that’s significant,” Springfield responded. “I’m not sure it’s possible in the current space. There’s only a sliver of space to dedicate a memorial experience.”
Other community expressed concerns about seating and the idea of an increased space to assemble.
“Do you envision that the new design would include any place to sit at all? If so, it would give concern that it would invite the kind of behavior that isn’t welcome,” someone else added. The room erupted in applause and side conversations.
Springfield said that’s a “concern the architects will have to address.”
Howard Grant, a retired architect who designed the current Harvey Milk Plaza station, opposes the redesign.
“We haven’t talked about the disruption and inconvenience demolition and replacement of the plaza would bring for the hundreds of Muni commuters and adjacent neighbors,” he said, reading from a prepared speech. “I believe Harvey Milk Plaza is a community asset that should be treasured, not demolished.”
During October’s two-week public comment period, the Harvey Milk Plaza redesign project received over 20,000 interactions. Based on the data collected by Neighborland, the communications host of the online survey, during those two weeks, 2600 people participated in the survey component of FHMP Neighborland and 4000 contributed survey responses. 47 percent of those who responded live or work in 94114 and 50 percent utilize Harvey Milk Plaza daily, weekly or monthly.
“It was a great turnout for the first meeting and we gathered a lot of great feedback from the community,” said FOHM president Andrea Aiello in a statement. “The feedback sheets are posted on the Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza Facebook page. The feedback sheets will also be posted on the FOHM website within the next week or so.”
Aiello added that the feedback will be used to inform materials for the March 3rd meeting, which will include a series of different sketches for a reimagined public space into a fitting and lasting tribute to the plaza’s history and namesake.
Additional fundraising efforts will call on public contributions to secure the additional $10 million required for the full funding of the design, construction, and maintenance of the plaza.
The next community meetings are scheduled for March 3rd and April 7th at Most Holy Redeemer Church. The fourth meeting’s time and location are unconfirmed.
How to recover from California's flaming forests
In the wake of California's recent wildfires, various assumptions have arisen about how best to prevent future fires and the post-burn impacts. Those notions raise more questions about the devastated area's impact on wildlife, what leaving dead trees behind means for future fires, and what lasting effects will forest fires have on climate change.
At an environmental conference last fall, I learned about the science of forest management. Dr. Chad Hanson, the Director and Principal Ecologist for the John Muir Project, has literally written the book on fire suppression and forest management. He’s the co-author and editor of “The Ecological Importance of Mixed-Severity Fires: Nature’s Phoenix.”
I had lots of burning questions. The fact that we are now in an all-year-fire season led me to contact Hanson to learn more about how to best care for our burned wildlands.
What I learned is that forest fires are good for the planet, good for the forests, and good for the critters who live in them - as long as we leave Mother Nature to rejuvenate herself after a fire.
Rim Fire: Burned four years ago and logged (Sept. 2017)
Rim Fire: Burned four years ago and left to recover on its own (June 2017)
Photos courtesy of Kathy Howard
1. Forest fires are good for wildlife
After the fires, the dead trees become microhabitats - birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles and fish all use standing snags or fallen logs for food, nesting or shelter. And life starts to return even during the fire! The smoke attracts wood-boring beetles from miles away to lay their eggs on the fire-killed trees; the larva hatch and bore into the dead trees to develop into adults over years. The black-backed woodpecker drills into the snags and snatches the larva to feed her family. This charming little head-pounder has black feathers on her back, which makes her practically invisible against the charred timber. She depends completely on burned out snags (standing dead trees) for food and to make a home for her chicks. After she and her family move on, other animals move in to the cavity that her mate created.
Burned areas contain two- to six-times more small-mammal prey than mature forests. Although California spotted owls nest in tree cavities in mature forests, they find the best hunting among the downed logs and low growth of burned areas. Hanson calls this the “bed and breakfast” effect.
2. Timber in “snag forest” areas usually doesn’t burn as hot in subsequent fires
Most of the very flammable sap from the pine needles has already evaporated soon after trees die during droughts or fires. All those fallen logs absorb moisture and retain it, swelling up like sponges. In fact, studies have found that dead trees reduce fire intensity and spread. The “snag forest,” a unique forest habitat dominated by snags, is not as flammable as a green forest that contains little or no snags.
3. Clearing the land severely hampers forest regeneration
As burned trees and branches decompose, they add to the richness of the soil. Rotting debris on the forest floor is nature’s way of protecting, mulching and enriching the soil. Removing old logs and branches deprives the land of the sustenance needed to rebuild a new forest and kills most of the conifer seedlings that naturally grow in after-fire.
4. Selling off the burned timber contributes to climate change
Carbon storage is best achieved when forests are protected. If we could protect all US federal forests from logging, it would equal removing 13 to 24 million cars from our highways. According to the United Nations Environment Program, forest protection is essential to reaching the world’s climate change mitigation goals.
5. Burning downed trees for energy (biomass) is not climate friendly
Biomass creates more greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than burning coal, per-unit of energy produced.
A 21st century approach is needed for forest management.
Unfortunately, our own government officials have recently proposed lifting the export ban on “surplus species” — trees not commercially viable in the United States, then redirecting millions of tax dollars for removal of dead trees in California, even providing transportation subsidies to the private companies that will do this work. Proposals include building biomass mills in rural areas.
The logging industry profits from our forests, as the timber is sold to them for pennies on the dollar. Even at bargain basement rates for timber, logging provides revenue to our government agencies.
Should this exploitation of our natural resources really be the purpose of our National Forests in the 21st Century, as we face our own existential threat from climate change?
According to Hanson, we need to move away from backcountry fire suppression and logging, and redirect resources toward protecting homes and communities from fire.
What you can do: Write to Senator Diane Feinstein, State Senator Scott Wiener, and Assembly members David Chiu and Phil Ting asking them to leave the snags standing in our forests and leave the logs on the ground. Support the natural regeneration of our forests and leave the forest to Mother Nature to recreate as she does best
Katherine Howard is a member of the Executive Committee of the SF Group of the Sierra Club.
After $9 Million Renovation Randall Museum Reopens
A special selection of Randall Museum’s animal ambassadors venture from their cages, pens, and perches to greet museum visitors up-close.
Corona Heights Park’s art and science education center, Randall Museum, is set to reopen its doors to the public on Sunday, February 11th. To celebrate the anticipated occasion, the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department and Randall Museum Friends will host a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 10 a.m. A family festival with free art and science activities and live entertainment will follow.
The museum has been closed to the public since June 2015. The $9 million renovation project adds new amenities to the museum including a state-of-the-art STEM lab, geology and zoology exhibits, an elevator, and a cafe, as well as updates to the live animal exhibit, science and ceramics studios, classrooms, and the first-floor lobby.
Under the jurisdiction of the Recreation and Park Department, the Randall Museum is a free-of-charge nature and culture museum that receives over 100,000 visitors per year. The Randall Museum is intended to be a place that inspires creativity, curiosity, and a love of learning about the world’s environments. As part of this mission, the museum provides exhibits, classes, workshops, presentations, special events, and many other hands-on learning activities for children and adults.
“The Randall Museum offers an amazing experience for our City’s youth, and I am excited to see its doors open to the public once again,” said Board of Supervisors President London Breed in a statement. “For more than 65 years, this museum has provided a place where children can foster their love for science, natural history and the arts. With these new renovations, it will continue that wonderful tradition for generations to come.”
The renovation project was funded by a $5.5 million grant from the California State Parks’ Nature Education Facilities Program (NEFP), significant Rec and Park support along with additional funding from the City’s General Fund secured by former District 8 Supervisor, now State Senator Scott Wiener, and private and public donations, and private and public donations from Randall Museum Friend’s Revitalize the Randall campaign.
“The Randall Museum is a community treasure, especially for San Francisco’s children and their families, and I’m so happy that it’s reopening after its well-deserved renovation,” Wiener said in a press release.
Designed through a joint venture between two prominent San Francisco architecture firms, Pfau Long Architecture and Kuth/Ranieri, the renovation has dramatically transformed every community gathering place and classroom on site. Honoring the Randall Museum’s environmental mission, sustainable and green building design elements were implemented throughout the process. These environmentally responsible practices include using recycled/reclaimed materials and certified wood, installing low-flow plumbing fixtures and energy-efficient lighting, sourcing materials from local manufacturers, repurposing onsite materials within the project site, and recycling 75 percent of construction debris.
NEFP Grant funding provided seismic upgrades for portions of the facility and brought the site up to American Disability Act standards. A concession area was added to allow visitors to extend their stay at the facility. Building systems such as mechanical, plumbing and electrical, including a low-voltage system also were modernized. Interior equipment, materials and finishes have been upgraded.
The Randall Museum was the inspiration of Josephine D. Randall, who received her master’s degree in zoology from Stanford University in 1910. Randall intended the museum to be “a place that would foster a love of science, natural history and the arts.”
The Randall offers hands-on learning accessible to all through free admission and low-cost classes. The museum caters to children and teens through school field-trips. The museum is home to over 100 animals that can no longer survive in the wild, and it showcases these animals to help visitors learn about and appreciate California’s diverse and disappearing wildlife. Upon reopening, the museum will be open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m.
A baby greets a desert cottontail rabbit in the Randall’s new desert habit enclosure.
Photos Courtesy of Randall Museum
Aardvark Books’ New Chapter
It’s a story that’s heard all too often lately, that another beloved SF store will be closing. It was especially sad news for the Castro when we’d learned that neighborhood favorite, Aardvark Books, was up for sale. But there’s great news; they’re staying! Aardvarks is officially off the market, giving us a reason to celebrate and a place to browse for some of the best literary treasures in the Bay. President of Aardvark Books, David Lugn, gave the Castro Courier a glimpse into the history behind the iconic store, and let us in on what he hopes that visitors to Aardvark Books will continue to find today.
Wendy: Not only did we get the good news that you’re staying open, but that also means that you’ll be here for your 40th anniversary, as John Hadreas had opened the store in 1978. What month was that?
David: It opened in November.
Wendy: What was the vision for the store when it was first opened?
David: Most of the used bookstores were downtown; they’re all gone now. They were really well established and kinda cranky. There were three or four really big bookstores downtown, and they were kind of indifferent to the customers; they had a reputation [for it]. That was their pose, and everyone understood it, so it wasn’t like anyone was angry about it, because that was just their nature. John was looking to open up a store that was more of a neighborhood store, and wouldn’t be cranky. Although we can still be cranky!
Wendy: You’ve been there for 37 of the 40 years; what was the neighborhood like then?
David: It was different! It was just not a really well established place; it was a little edgier. The Castro hadn’t been fully developed yet into [what we know it as now]. It wasn’t the Fillmore; it wasn’t the Castro; it wasn’t the Mission. There wasn’t as much activity there. There was a little hippie boutique, and I remember when Dipti Nivas restaurant opened, which was Carlos Santana’s restaurant. He and his wife had a vegetarian restaurant that I miss every day. They had a farm that all the food came from. We even had gypsies on the street when I first started working here, that would read your palm; they had a little storefront. We had two corner grocery stores [15th and Church] that were a lot of fun; they were really an anchor for the neighborhood. It was a neighborhood, but John took a little bit of chance to open the store where he did, because there wasn’t much going on.
Wendy: It also helped to bring a feeling of community to the area, because a bookstore is a gathering place, even if people are reading rather than talking. It’s a much different experience than pointing and clicking for a book. How do you feel about online book buying?
David: It’s really changed the nature of bookstores, that’s for sure. It’s done a lot to change how people buy books, but now it’s doing a lot to change how people buy everything. Every bookstore has faced problems with purchasing online, but it’s easy; if you’re looking for a book and can’t find it, you can find it online. You can’t really browse online [though]; that’s the nice thing about going into a bookstore. You might stumble upon something wonderful.
Wendy: What do think of the changes in your neighborhood?
David: Well, then it got really bright and active. All the streets were busy and all the storefronts had occupants, but now it’s kinda dead again, in a very different way. Now it’s just a lot of vacant properties too, but for a while it flourished as a pretty active spot. It’s a transit hub, so you still get a lot of activity in that way. Wouldn’t it be nice if all the vacant properties would be occupied by good tenants that brought something to the neighborhood? I don’t know who’s going to move into these places, although next to us, where Chilango used to be, is going to be a restaurant. They’re hoping to open in March.
Wendy: What do you hope that the community that is living in your neighborhood now finds in your store? What do you want them to experience when they come in?
David: I hope they find it to be a friendly environment [in which] to browse for books, and visit with one another. And of course our cat is so beloved, that most of the attention in the bookstore is paid to the cat.
Wendy: Everyone must have been so happy to hear that you’re staying in the hood.
David: Well the neighborhood seems to be; people come by all the time with a thumbs up. Many people were really concerned when they first heard that we were gonna close, and now people are coming in and mentioning how they’re happy that we’re gonna stay open.
Wendy: What are you yourself reading right now?
David: I’m reading a new biography of Ulysses S. Grant [Ron Chernow], and “Lincoln In The Bardo” [George Saunders], which is a novel, and is great. A bardo in Buddhism is like a way station between death and the next place. It’s a really clever, remarkable, touching book about Abraham Lincoln visiting the grave of his son, and all the people around him who are dead, but don’t always know it, and they’re watching him as ghosts. It’s a beautiful, wonderful, funny book.
Photos: Tony Taylor