By Kendra Sitton | Editor
Some Uptown Planners members’ fears came to fruition on May 16 as the city’s Park and Recreation Board unanimously approved plans for an Olive Street Park with a provision for a future AIDS memorial — an inclusion that did not come before the community oversight board in the latest proposal for the pocket park. Instead, the Uptown Planners recommended approval of the Site Development Permit for the 0.69-acre lot in a 9-3-2 vote on April 2 after listening to a presentation on the proposed playground, adult fitness area and an overlook facing Maple Canyon. Absent was any official discussion of the memorial, but that did not stop some board members from accusing the city of misleading the community about the process so the AIDS memorial would have a home after the Uptown Planners voted down the initial proposal a year earlier in February 2018.
Uptown Planners and Bankers Hill Community Group member Amie Hayes said after the recent approval, “It is disappointing to see the city go to such levels so as not to be transparent with the community.”
She voted against the recent approval of the Olive Street Park when it came before the Uptown Planners and has since accused officials of trying to sidestep the planning board because of its previous lack of support. “The city and AIDS Task Force has intended all along to have a regional AIDS memorial in this park, which is why the bifurcating tactic was used to work around Uptown Planners.”
If the tiny park is not given a categorical exemption for filing an environmental impact report, city officials and the designers of the park and memorial, Domus Studio, will have to appear before the board again. This time, whether the memorial will draw too many people to the dead-end street and cause parking issues, will likely be the focus of the discussion. However, a negative recommendation from the board is unlikely to derail the decades-long effort to build a quiet memorial where friends and family of people who died from AIDS can mourn. Work on the task force has also been central to Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s wife Katharine Stuart Faulconer and her role as first lady. Mayor Faulconer has publicly supported the project.
Longtime LGBT activist Nicole Murray Ramirez praised the Park and Recreation Board’s approval of the memorial at the Harvey Milk Diversity Breakfast on May 17. The crowd of more than 1,000 cheered as he announced San Diego will join the rest of the nation’s largest cities with a public memorial to the many lives lost in the AIDS crisis. According to him, there are over 8,000 known San Diegans who died from the virus.
Alongside Susan Jester, he has been fighting for the memorial’s creation for decades and was key in urging San Diego government leaders to take action during the AIDS epidemic.
“I believe Olive Street Park is an entirely appropriate place for an AIDS memorial … We wanted to pick a place where someone could come and sit and reflect, pray or meditate in honor of loved ones,” Jester said in a previous interview with Uptown News.
Review of the park is still underway for the Site Development Permit and environmental review. A century after the land was donated for a park, the city’s general fund is set to finally pay for the construction of Olive Street Park. Decades after the AIDS crisis claimed thousands of lives, the region is set to finally have a memorial dedicated to them.
— Kendra Sitton can be reached at email@example.com.