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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

BATTLE OVER BALBOA PARK: Part 2/Alternative Plans Outlined

Editor’s Note: This balanced view of the proposed “carless” improvements to the main El Prado area in Balboa Park first appeared in the January, 2012 edition of North Park News, a publication of REP Publications. Penned by reporter Delle Willet, the “Battle over Balboa Park” is reprinted with permission

BALBOA PARK WEEK--On July 19 the city approved a Memo of Understanding (MOU) with the Plaza de Panama Committee, which served as a contract to continue with the Plaza de Panama plan. At the same time, a number of alternatives to this proposed project are also being thoroughly studied in the EIR. The environmental review process will assess potential impacts of the proposed project and alternatives in the areas of traffic circulation, cultural and historic resources, biological resources, and a number of others. Some people believe as is, the MOU puts the city in the position to go with Jacobs’ plan and precludes them using any alternative.

In response to the memorandum, SOHO sued in San Diego Superior Court to rescind the memorandum claiming the city approved the contract illegally before the completion of a state environmental review. On Dec. 16, Superior Court Judge Judith F. Hayes, in a preliminary ruling, deemed the memorandum illegal for the time being. With final ruling pending, Jacobs declined to comment.

The Plaza de Panama website reports a partial list of backers that includes the majority of Balboa Park institutions, ConVis, San Diego Hotel-Motel Association, Downtown San Diego Partnership, over 900 individuals and businesses.

Representing the public (with over 5000 signatures so far on a petition) and a coalition of over 20 groups and organizations, including The League of Woman Voters, The Committee of 100, Citizens Coordinate for Century 3, SOHO recommends the SOHO Precise Plan “Lite,” an alternative plan that consists of a low-cost, reversible, and phased-design approach for the Plaza de Panama Circulation and Parking Project that complies with the existing Balboa Park Master Plan and Central Mesa Precise Plan. The plan meets the goal of converting the Plaza de Panama to pedestrian use while retaining the maximum degree of flexibility, programmability and access to all, and would allow for managed traffic on the Cabrillo Bridge when appropriate or desired. All of this achieved with the least impact to the park and the National Historic Landmark District.

The SOHO Plan for Circulation is to route two-way vehicular traffic along the southwest corner of the Plaza de Panama, adjacent to the Mingei International Museum, and provide a valet and passenger drop-off on both sides of through traffic. In addition, a new entrance driveway would be provided into the Alcazar Garden parking lot by modifying the existing southern exit road.

SOHO Parking Plan
The SOHO Plan for Parking will replace all 54 current parking spaces in the Plaza de Panama, including the 20 accessible spaces, by creating new public parking spaces in existing parking lots behind park institutions and streets, enabling better and more direct access for visitors and the disabled.
The SOHO alternative plan has no significant adverse effects, and a limited amount of proposed changes, therefore this project could proceed without the need of an EIR. It also has consensus of most of San Diegans, according to Bruce Coons, executive director of SOHO.

“This is a perfect time to try out the plan with the 2015 Centennial. We can see how it works and then adopt it permanently or change it later,” said Coons. “Why do something permanent and unchangeable when we can use a plan that can be changed ?”

The SOHO part of the plan can be accomplished well under $1 million. The potential funding sources: Through the use of a CCDC Redevelopment Tax Increment for funding project sites contiguous to CCDC’s downtown Project Area, the General Fund’s Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT), and the Tourist Marketing District. As a project for the 2015 Centennial could be yet another source of funding.

The principal objections to the Jacobs’/CIVITAS plan include: That the Centennial Bridge and Road will impact the historic nature of the Park that could result in a loss of its National Register District classification and the grant support that comes with this designation. That the bypass bridge would ruin the historic appearance of Cabrillo Bridge. That the plan does not have the public’s support nor the support of the 20-member coalition made up of historical societies, community and neighborhood activists, and preservation and environmental stakeholders.

Plea for a Vote
Coons believes that the Jacobs’ plan should be put to a vote. “If we let the public decide it will end the arguments. San Diego has the right to be ugly as well as it does to be beautiful. If the public votes for this plan then SOHO won’t protest. If this isn’t put to the public vote, people will be shocked when they see how much this changes Balboa Park, and they’ll say ‘Why did you let this happen!’” said Coons.

The preservation of Balboa Park is one of the toughest and biggest preservation fights that San Diego has ever had and it’s garnered more support for SOHO than any other. The two other large ones preservationists fought for and won are Petco Park and the Gaslamp District. “Now people love them; everybody wants to say they fathered them now that they see that they are successful,” said Coons.

Images: Plaza de Panama, central Balboa Park, San Diego, CA. by

Comments regarding this series should be directed to REP Publishing Inc., publisher of SD METRO, the North Park News and the West Coast Craftsman. Contact: Manny Cruz (619) 287-1865.

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