By Ken Williams | Editor
“There’s no place in San Diego to mourn our loved ones,” said an emotional Rory Curz, who described himself as a 25-year survivor of AIDS.
Curz said it was “incredibly important” to build a local AIDS memorial because history can easily be forgotten.
“I’ve seen more people die,” by the time Curz was 30, “as my parents did by age 50,” he added.
Curz will be getting his wish. The San Diego AIDS Memorial Task Force has chosen the proposed Olive Street Park in Bankers Hill as the site for the long-awaited AIDS memorial to the 8,000 men, women and children who have died from the disease since the 1980s in the San Diego area.
The off-the-beaten-path location — where Olive Street dead-ends at Third Avenue next to Maple Canyon — is not without controversy. Some people want the memorial to be built in Hillcrest, perhaps along Normal Street near the Pride flag site, and others favor Balboa Park or Downtown.
The task force announced its decision at a public meeting held Aug. 28 in the Great Hall at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Bankers Hill, which is about three blocks east of the future park. The group also invited the public to submit their ideas about how the memorial should look.
Longtime LGBT activist Nicole Murray-Ramirez, co-chair of the task force, said the volunteer group considered Balboa Park, Hillcrest and the Embarcadero as possible sites for the AIDS memorial before deciding on Olive Street Park.
The other sites would take many more years of red tape before a memorial could be built, he said, adding that groundbreaking at Olive Street Park could be as soon as 18 months away.
Murray-Ramirez, who also serves as a city commissioner, said he and other activists have been trying to get the city to build an AIDS memorial since the 1990s. He said Mayor Susan Golding, who served from 1992-2000, had given her blessing for a memorial but that effort never got off the ground.
The project regained steam several years ago when Assemblymember Todd Gloria — then the District 3 City Council member — spearheaded an effort to get Olive Street Park built by suggesting that the AIDS memorial could be located there.
More than a century ago, the Ford, McKee and Woods families had dedicated the 80-by-120-foot lot to the city for use as a park. In 2004, the city listed the lot as surplus property, but the Uptown Planners rallied the community to oppose selling the land.
Gloria and other city officials then crafted a complex deal that involved the sale of the historic Truax House, home to the city’s first AIDS hospice.
The Truax House, located at 2513/2515 Union St. in Bankers Hill, is about one mile west of Olive Street Park via Maple Canyon. Local developer Nakhshab Design & Development, led by Soheil Nakhshab, agreed to pay $2.5 million for the Truax House, an adjourning house and a vacant lot if Truax House would be preserved and restored with a community meeting room included.
Meanwhile, proceeds from the sale of the surplus property went into the city’s gas tax fund, as required. But as part of the complex deal, city officials agreed to shift around money in the budget to fund construction of Olive Street Park and provide space for the AIDS memorial.
Katherine Stuart Faulconer, the city’s first lady who is co-chair of the task force, said the AIDS memorial would take up about 25 percent of the park. A children’s playground would also share space in the park, despite objections that a play area would be too noisy for a memorial site designed for mourning and reflection.
She invited the public to submit ideas for the AIDS memorial online at bit.ly/sdaidsmemorial. Deadline is 5 p.m. Friday, Sept. 15. The input can range from very informal ideas to professional presentations, she said, and the task force will review all the ideas and select the top three for a public vote.
Task force members include Rabbi Laurie Coskey, CEO of United Way in San Diego; the Very Rev. Penny Bridges, dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral; Terry Cunningham, chairman of the county HIV Health Services Planning Council; Jim Cassidy, of Being Alive San Diego; Dr. Delores Jacobs and Carolina Ramos, of the San Diego LGBT Community Center; former Assemblymember Jeff Marston as well as Susan Jester, Jim Lennox, Jimmy Ramsey, Carole Norman, Shannon Wagner, Ben Dillingham, Jay Sheehan and Diana Schmid.
Attendees at the public meeting were then allowed to speak, and 10 people shared their thoughts.
Amie Hayes, representing the Bankers Hill Community Group, said its members opposed putting the AIDS memorial in the proposed pocket park and added that the tot lot was detrimental to the peaceful nature of a memorial site.
Leo Wilson, speaking on behalf of the Metro San Diego Community Development Corp., which serves the Bankers Hill area, said CDC members voted unanimously to support the effort to put the AIDS memorial at Olive Street Park.
Community volunteer Tom Kirkman said he supported putting the AIDS memorial near the Pride flag in Hillcrest, and worried that senior citizens would have difficulty getting to the Olive Street Park. The nearest bus stop is on Fourth Avenue just south of Palm Avenue, two blocks away.
Charles “Chuck” Kaminski, a local LGBT historian and activist, urged the task force to keep the design-selection process fair and transparent.
Mat Walstrom, who serves on the Uptown Planners, urged that the memorial design take advantage of the overlook into Maple Canyon. He envisioned benches along the rim of the canyon where visitors could watch the sun set and reflect on their loss of loved ones.
Eddie Reynoso, who operates the San Diego LGBT Visitors Center, suggested planting cherry trees a la AIDS Vancouver’s 30 30 Campaign. His idea was to obtain seedlings or cuttings from an original tree in the Cherry Tree Memorial Grove.
To share your ideas, go to bit.ly/sdaidsmemorial.