Harvey Milk Park under construction as ‘outdoor office’

Construction crews are transforming Harvey Milk Park into a $700,000 “Outdoor Office” as well as a retail and gathering space.
When completed in May, the 500-square-foot public space, per these renderings, also will feature an upgraded memorial wall recognizing local LGBTQ activists and a mural celebrating Milk, the pioneering civil rights leader who was California’s first openly gay elected official. Photo: City of Long Beach.

LONG BEACH — Construction crews are transforming Harvey Milk Park into a $700,000 “outdoor office” as well as a retail and gathering space.

When completed in May, the 500-square-foot public space also will feature an upgraded memorial wall recognizing local LGBTQ activists and a mural celebrating Milk, the pioneering civil rights leader who was California’s first openly gay elected official.

“I’m excited about the investments and improvements coming to the park,” Mayor Robert Garcia said in a statement.

The park, which is located at Third Street and the Promenade, is closed to the public and surrounded by a chain link fence as construction crews work inside, giving the space a complete overhaul. Except for a single Harvey Milk Promenade Park post, everything has been removed or demolished.

It’s the first park in Long Beach named after a person who identifies as gay, and the first park in the nation named after the slain civil rights leader.

Queer-art pop-up gallery at Harvey Milk Park is latest effort to expand use of the space

CELEBRATING QUEER LEADERS

The centerpiece of the park has been — and hopefully will continue to be — Equality Plaza, which commemorates Milk and local queer leaders. The plaza will include a concrete replica of Milk’s renowned “Soap” box, which he stood on to inspire crowds when he spoke and a 20-foot flagpole flying the Gay Pride flag. The plaza also will include some upgrades: a large, black-and-white portrait mural honoring Milk and an improved memorial wall with the names of more than 20 local LGBTQ leaders, such as David Hensley, Lee Glaze, Stephanie Loftin, and Ellen Ward.

The site also receive other improvements:

  • New landscape and hardscape
  • An event stage
  • Cell phone charging stations
  • Shade
  • Comfortable seating

The city, which initiated the redesign in 2016, has viewed the park as a way to increase economic development in downtown by “connecting people and institutions through more open, diverse, and inclusive public spaces for people to gather.”

As more retail, restaurants, businesses, and housing open in The Promenade, the city wants the park to play a larger role in the area.

COMMITTEE KEPT IN CLOSET

But it’s been a rocky road to reach that goal.

The city, including the mayor, jumped on the redesign bandwagon without consulting or speaking with any members of the Harvey Milk Park Selection Committee, a group of local LGBTQ people who helped the city plan and develop the park in 2011 and 2012.

The committee found out about the city and mayor’s plans in April 2016 when the city unveiled initial renderings of the “Outdoor Office,” but those drawings eliminated all queer elements in the park that celebrating the contributions of the LGBTQ community and Milk.

LGBT leaders inducted into Harvey Milk Park

The unveiling coincided with the city’s announcement that it had received a $300,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to make the “Outdoor Office.” Another $250,00 for American with Disabilities Act improvements will come from Measure A, and the remaining $150,000 will be funded from other grants. General fund money will not be used to pay for park features, according the the Public Works Department, which is in charge of the project.

After the renderings were unveiled, three members of the Harvey Milk Park Selection Committee voiced opposition to the plans, saying they were never consulted.

CITY PLAYS APOLOGIST

The city countered that because they had been competing for the Knight Foundation grant, they could only discuss the plans with a small group of city officials who worked on the grant application.

However, after interviewing multiple sources, Q Voice News was told that numerous city employees and officials knew about the redesign plans, and the only people who didn’t seem to know were the park committee members.

At the time, in April 2016, committee member Stephanie Loftin said the city should have selected another location for the outdoor office.

“Harvey Milk would be rolling in his grave that his park is being turned into an outdoor office,” she said. “They should have talked with us first.

“Of all the parks in the city, why couldn’t this outdoor office be somewhere else? I guess it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission.”

Since then, park committee members have said that the city has included them in every meeting, including meetings to discuss furniture and technology options at the redesigned park.

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.