The Jewel of the City Awaits a Decision

| March 1, 2012 | 2 Comments

Friends of Balboa Park reviewing options

by Patty Ducey-Brooks

Back in the July issue of the Presidio Sentinel, we introduced the proposed restoration of Plaza de Panama in Balboa Park with a pedestrian friendly environment.  The initial plan was to “polish” the jewel of San Diego for the 2015 Centennial of the Pacific-Panama Exposition.

In response to the park beautification initiative, upward of 20 organizations stepped up to offer their ideas for the park, including the elimination of parking in the plaza.  However a more serious option was proposed, it has been referred to as the Jacobs/Sanders’ redevelopment plan.

These renderings of Balboa Park were presented by the Jacobs/Sanders’ plan.

According to a document provided by the Mayor’s office, the proposed Plaza de Panama project would restore more than six acres of parkland, including the Plaza de Panama, Plaza de California, West El Prado and Esplanade.  Through the construction of the Centennial Bridge and Road, it would maintain proximate public access from both the east and west sides of the park, which is critical for the continued success of the institutions and museums in the park.

Following several months of meetings, presentations and The City of San Diego Historic Resources Board conducting walking tours of select areas of Balboa Park and a workshop introducing the Jacobs/Sanders plan, the project has been delayed.

Superior Court Judge Judith Hayes has granted the Petition for Writ of Mandate filed by Save Our Heritage Organization (SOHO) last summer to challenge the City”s pre-commitment to a new bridge and paid parking in Balboa Park.

The ruling dated January 19, 2012 agrees with SOHO that despite promises for an adequate Environmental Impact Review (EIR) process, the Memorandum of Understanding entered into between the City and the Plaza de Panama Committee “constitutes an approval of the proposed project without prior environmental review as required by California Environment Quality Act (CEQA). The MOU constitutes action that effectively forecloses due consideration of project alternatives or mitigation measures that are essential parts of CEQA review.”

Additionally, California State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) Milford Wayne Donaldson has written a letter warning of the loss of Balboa Park”s national landmark designation status, Donaldson”s remarks were piercing, stating, “This massive project composed of unnecessary, intrusive, and incompatible new construction severely impairs the public”s ability to appreciate and understand the National Historic Landmark. Millions of visitors annually visit Balboa Park. Their experience and understanding of a remarkable historic setting would be impaired.”

During an interview with Bruce Coons, SOHO executive director, he spoke about the “concrete urbanization of Balboa Park,” referring to renderings provided by the planning committee for the proposed City plan.

Besides the massive physical changes that were being considered, Coons explained to me the additional financial issues related to this proposed plan that had received support from Mayor Jerry Sanders. Coons also referred to a “Memorandum of Understanding” (MOU) that had been presented to the City Council. This has been extended to a March 22 for public comment period.

These renderings of Balboa Park were presented by the Jacobs/Sanders’ plan.

Coons also communicated that existing free spaces will be removed. The net result from the construction of a multi-million dollar garage will be a significant decrease in available “free” parking. The total net new spaces will be 260. However, 100 of those will be reserved for expensive Valet parking. This means a net increase of 160 spaces with the cost to the Park irreparable.

Coons offered, “We’re not married to the solution that we’ve proposed. There are 20 acceptable plans presented by different groups and organizations. Four to five of the plans are great.”

He added, “We want to consider the easiest and least expensive of the alternatives that maintain our historic designation and the integrity of Balboa Park, the jewel of San Diego.”

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