Tuesday, August 28, 2012

What I Saw at
Last Night's Milk Plaza Meeting

(Last week, I complained to MUMC president Terry Bennett about the filthy bird poop-smeared rainbow banner, which is the responsibility of her group, on the edge of the plaza close to Castro Street. She had it replaced over the weekend. Notice the lack of pigeons on the street light. Credit: Andrea Aiello, CBD.)

Over thirty individuals attended the streetscape committee meeting of the Castro Benefit District, held at the SF gay community center. The official topic up for discussion was solving myriad problems at Harvey Milk Plaza and activate the public space, in the short term. Here are random notes on some of what transpired.

1. I suggested a Sunday Speakout in the center of the plaza under the rainbow flag. Harvey used to draw a chalk soapbox on the sidewalk and speak his mind, and serves as a good model of how to bring small numbers of people to the plaza. Of course, I raised the matter of establishing equal access to the public rainbow flag for community and political events. Also, I want to see signage indicating the kiosk toilet at Jane Warner Plaza is free.

2. The condo owners who live just a few feet off the plaza want the large purple benches removed. They recognized even without benches, homeless folks will still congregate on the cement sidewalk. It was suggested thorny rose and blackberry bushes be planted to prevent people from using the carve-out gardens as urinals. Owners complained about partying at HMP after the bars close, and the noise from Warner Plaza during daytime weekend concerts. Frankly, the owners seemed to want no one in HMP, no music at anytime and a desire to have the area turn from mixed use area into nothing but a residential area.

3. There was general agreement to rethink the benches, everything from taking them out to replacements of the rounded-up individual seats at Muni bus stops.

4. No representatives of Homeless Inc were at the table. Odd that key stakeholders who stopped the benches' removal last year weren't present. The city's homeless czar Bevan Dufty showed up late. He stated he's been in touch with the city's homeless outreach teams and Homeless Inc, seeing if anyone wanted linkage into services. Dufty said there are no homeless or transient folks desiring linkage, so there was really nothing else he or the city could do, and suggested the missing Homeless Inc groups should consider intense case management of the folks hanging out at HMP.

5. Scott Wiener made mention of his multi-year proposal to expand sidewalk space on Castro Street as was done on Valencia Street, and also radically restructure the retaining wall on the north side of HMP to make the public space see-through. Wiener said there is no money allocated for this proposal which would take years to implement, even if funding were in hand.

6. The vice president of Merchants of Upper Castro Market, Petyr Kane, said his group long ago warned the CBD to install the purple benches but the advice was rejected. He called for more coordination of MUMC and CBD, for the good of HMP. Kane refused to speak with me afterwards about lowering the rainbow flag for September 11 and bringing a crowd to HMP. He was instructed by his board to not say a thing about the flag.

7. Andrea Aiello of the CBD did an admirable job of wearing four hats. She welcomed people to the meeting, facilitated the agenda, took notes at the easel and posted the large notes on the wall. She would have been greatly helped, and the meeting would have been better, if CBD board members took on responsibility to take on one of those tasks.

8. The police caption from the Mission Station, Bob Moser, sat on my right and briefed us on how his force handles complaints about the homeless in HMP.

9. Everyone agreed HMP's upper level, where the benches and rainbow flag are, was poorly designed and does not lend itself to serving as anything more than pedestrian walkway. The final 20 or so minutes were only about the medium range plan of addressing the benches. I spoke up to remind everyone the matter of short-term plans to activate HMP were left out in the cold.

10. A note from longtime community documentarian Bill Wilson, who remained silent all evening:  I left the meeting and didn’t really trust myself not to express my utter contempt for those self-indulged condo idiots if I said anything. 

I just don’t understand why these people brought condos in the Castro if it is such a nightmare for them. Yes, even in Harvey’s time the plaza was a gathering place so they can’t say they bought their condos before it turned into a gathering place. I assume that they really aren’t in favor of adequate historic signage because then tourists wouldn’t have to pay to learn about the community.

There is something about leading a tour of Castro that brings out the viciousness in people, as was the case when Trevor Hailey was alive and conducting them. To end with Kathy Amendola who does the tours now, demanding thorny shrubbery so people will get hurt is just absurd. It didn't help that she kept yelling her thorny point.

The next meeting of the full board of the CBD is on Thursday, September 13, from 6 to 7:30 pm, at the community meeting room above the Bank of America at Castro and 18th Street, where there will be more discussion about HMP.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the good coverage of the meeting.
I also heard from someone who attended and felt frustrated with the issue of spending thousands of dollars thru CBD (any possibly the City or MUMC) to change the benches and landscaping to make it univiting to locals or tourists. He said, "Why not just post NO LOITERING signs and have the PAID SFPD or Patrol Special enforce it late night?"

Also, I feel the condo owners are a minority group that are exacerbating this problem. I dealt with similar residents on Beaver Street re unfounded noise complaints.

The area was ZONED MIXED USE BEFORE they moved in!!! IF you don't like urban living and the traffic and noise that comes with (including fire and police sirens, street cars, buses), MOVE!!!! It really is that simple. To impose a suburban or rural attitude (whether you RENT or OWN) in a tourist destination neighborhood like the Castro is simply absurd! It is a LATE NIGHT HUB as well that drives the entire economy of the Castro, employing hundreds of employees, prospering large and small businesses, and creating an urban synergy.

Take out the 15 bars & late night restaurants and the entire Castro economy would crash within months. The vacancies and blight would drain the remaining businesses and then just see how happy the NIMBYS would be.

I don't need the chalk-drawn "soap box" at Milk Plaza ... I hope to make it to the next meeting and meet these people if they have the guts to show up.

Michael said...

Here's a radical idea to bring people to HMP. Let's hold a meeting in the plaza to discuss the plaza. It's going to take lots of meetings and get-togethers to solve how to reclaim the plaza.

Thanks for sharing all this feedback and perspective.