Like many citizens of the City of San Diego, I have been closely monitoring proposals for the redevelopment of Balboa Park. For those who might not be aware of this situation, the Plaza de Panama committee plan proposed changes to Balboa Park including removing vehicles and free parking within the park where they are now allowed and replace that with paid parking structures. Included in the plan is construction of a 400 foot bridge extension and freeway like transition road from the historic Laurel / Cabrillo bridge for visitors to access the new parking structures. The idea was to finish construction in time for the centennial celebration of 1915 Panama-California Exhibition, the reason Balboa Park first came into existence.
SOHO, (Save Our Heritage Organization), filed suit two years ago to block the city from proceeding with the proposed design. On February 4, 2013, SOHO claimed a great victory when Superior Court Judge Timothy Taylor ruled the City Council violated municipal code and utilized “faulty logic” in approving the Plaza de Panama Committee plan last July, 2012. Judge Taylor ruled the City “abused its discretion” in approving the project and ruled to set aside the project’s required Site Development Permit.
Key to the ruling was according to municipal code for historic sites, the City was required to find that the project site would otherwise have “no reasonable beneficial use” in order to have the permit approved. Obviously, Balboa Park has a great deal of “beneficial use” without the permit issuance, which the City seemed to ignore in their decision to proceed with the committees recommendation, perhaps the reason Judge Taylor deemed City Council had “abused it discretion”, used “faulty logic” and held that “the critical finding by the City Council is so lacking in evidentiary support as to render it unreasonable; it must therefore be set aside”.
Balboa Park is a rare and extraordinary site located in the urban center of San Diego. This has been a free “peoples park” for locals and tourists for generations. Supporters of the Plaza de Panama project contend it would reclaim the park from cars that currently drive through the park to reach parking lots. Opponents to the plan claim while one small area of cars would be freed up, the remainder of the park would be dominated by traffic, new buildings and acres of concrete parking lots. Tranquil Alcazar Gardens would become an automobile, bus and delivery zone.
With so much as stake for one of San Diego’s most important, historic and enduring landmarks, why has the City of San Diego failed to find an agreeable compromise? Balboa Park is a historic resource that should be protected and sensibly improved to benefit ALL the citizens of San Diego, not just special interest groups or donors such as Mr. Jacobs, who pledged to donate $30 million for improvements, but only using the Plaza de Panama plan, in other words, the philanthropic donation had political strings tied to it. Not much of a philanthropic gesture in my opinion. If Mr. Jacobs is truly interested in improving Balboa Park for ALL citizens, tourists and park visitors, he donation should not be tied to a specific design.
While I have spent a career working in land development, I am also a proud citizen of San Diego and I do not want to see the historic Cabrillo bridge turned into a freeway, and do not want to see the western historic architectural facade of the existing buildings destroyed because of a poorly conceived traffic circulation plan. There are better alternatives available and the City Council needs to stop considering free donations with strings attached as the reason for choosing one alternative plan over another.
Balboa Park was conceived and developed as a free park for all citizens to enjoy. That was the original intent, we should honor that objective in careful deliberation about the future of how to thoughtfully redevelop the park for future generations. Lets not rush to a limited decision so we can have a park renovated in time for the centennial.
Click to read the full SOHO article, SOHO Wins! Balboa Park Saved!