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A Regional AIDS Memorial Shouldn't Be Tucked Away in a Neighborhood Park

There are more appropriate locations for a regional memorial than a small neighborhood park. And that’s just one of the many problems with the project and the approach the task force has taken.

The AIDS Task Force, a volunteer group that includes leaders from HIV/AIDS service providers and the LGBT community and San Diego First Lady Katherine Stuart Faulconer, has proposed creating an AIDS memorial to be located at the new Olive Street Park in Bankers Hill.

CommentaryBut there are more appropriate locations for a regional memorial. And that’s just one of the many problems with the project and the approach the task force has taken.

The memorial warrants a respectful and visible location within the region. The right place would include restrooms, parking and adequate gathering space for special ceremonies, such as the memorial’s dedication. Olive Street Park is tucked into the Bankers Hill neighborhood at a dead-end street, and is not intended to have restrooms or parking, nor is parking readily available. Additionally, the memorial will share programming of this small 9,600 square-foot site with a playground. People mourning for loved ones lost to AIDS deserve a more peaceful, serene setting than this.

The poor transparency and lack of a more public process in choosing the memorial site is another significant issue. Our city has been highly impacted by this disease, so decisions about the memorial are of intense public interest. The AIDS Task Force should be subject to the Brown Act, hold open public meetings with advanced notice provided on the city website and involve the public in its decisions, including site and design. Further, because the Port Authority formerly agreed to house the memorial prominently along the waterfront – and other, more respectful and appropriate available locations have also been proposed and dismissed – it is important the Task Force clearly state the reasons it believes Olive Street Park is the best location.

With roughly $40,000, the task force has not raised enough funds to design and build a proper San Diego AIDS Memorial. This funding shortage is not compatible with the park’s construction schedule, which is breaking ground in 2018. Although some media reports suggest that memorial funding would come from the sale of the Truax House, those proceeds must revert back to the gas tax fund. And since that fund is taxpayer money, it cannot pay for a private AIDS memorial. Eliminating the confusion and explaining how the memorial will be financed would give the public confidence in the process and resolve larger transparency issues haunting the task force.

The memorial design is currently unknown and cannot be integrated into a plan or design for Olive Street Park, which will have a final public meeting on design in October. A regional memorial deserves to have a park or space designed specifically for its use. If the memorial is ultimately located at the new park in Bankers Hill, the program and design of the park will be completed before the memorial is designed. Since the size and programming of the park will not support a sizable memorial, a contextual one would be small and subdued. That would not pay nearly enough respect to the many we have lost to AIDS.

At the Bankers Hill Community Group’s July 2016 meeting, a public workshop specifically discussed priorities for Olive Street Park. A letter was sent to then-Councilman Todd Gloria explaining that those who will use the park most do not support a regional memorial. With a sizable attendance, including descendants of the family that donated the land years ago, the priorities that emerged from that meeting were to pay tribute to the original family and house, provide access to Maple Canyon and build a nice neighborhood park.

The AIDS Task Force and city officials should revisit the Olive Street Park decision and think carefully about what the AIDS Memorial San Diego deserves. If Olive Street Park is the right location for the memorial, the task force should publicly explain why.

Amie Hayes is president of the Bankers Hill Community Group. Hayes’ commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here

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