This past December 2016, Save Our Heritage Organisation filed a lawsuit in Superior Court to stop the controversial Balboa Park Plaza de Panama Project citing violations of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The $79 million construction of a massive bypass bridge, roads and paid-parking garage would irreparably damage the historic park, an internationally renowned San Diego treasure that is also a National Historic Landmark District.
The suit filed by SOHO, the region’s largest preservation group, on December 21, charges that the San Diego City Council illegally approved a substantially changed project in November by illegally amending the Plaza de Panama Project’s 2012 Environmental Impact Report. CEQA prohibits amendments. Changes in the project, city codes and surrounding areas of the park made during the past four years require new analysis of the project’s impacts, the feasibility of alternatives, and mitigation measures, as well as new public hearings.
In addition, the Plaza de Panama Project’s cost has doubled since first proposed, a development that requires reassessment of public benefit. Meanwhile, Balboa Park’s deteriorating historic buildings are in desperate need of restoration and stabilization at a cost preservationists estimate at $500 million.
SOHO filed the suit on behalf of thousands of San Diego citizens, community groups, and local, state and national preservation leaders on record as opposing the project. The former California State Historic Preservation Officer, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Caltrans, the City of San Diego Historical Resources Board,the San Diego Council of Design Professionals, and the Committee of One Hundred are among the opponents.
For years, SOHO and the public have strongly protested this ill-conceived project, which began as an effort to remove parking from the park’s central Plaza de Panama. That goal, which SOHO and citizens supported, was accomplished three years ago and the plaza has been restored to pedestrian and ceremonial use. Now, the Plaza de Panama Project’s paid-parking garage is an unnecessary intrusion because the San Diego Zoo recently completed a 650-space parking structure.
The project would irreparably damage Balboa Park’s historic core, vistas and landscape, thereby threatening its status as a National Historic Landmark District. In stark violation of preservation standards, a section of the 1915 Cabrillo Bridge would be removed for a massive, concrete freeway-style off-ramp. New roadways planned to funnel cars into the proposed parking structure would decimate Palm Canyon (which pre-dates 1915) and sideswipe Alcazar Garden (1935). In addition, the plan would introduce paid parking into the park that has always been free and open to all. This unprecedented parking fee can only lead to paid parking throughout the park and hardship for some residents.
SOHO welcomes donations to its Balboa Park Legal Defense Fund. To make a tax-deductible contribution, call (619) 297-9327.