Editor: Opposition by the public – the people of San Diego – to the plan for Balboa Park by Irwin Jacob – the billionaire – is growing. On Friday, May 18th, San Diego’s Historical Resources Board voted against it unanimously, and on the day before, the Park and Recreation Board voted 5-4 against it. The plan, the Plaza de Panama plan, will be taken up by the Planning Commission on June 7 and by the San Diego City Council on July 9. Here’s an update by architectural and San Diego historical expert Roger Showley, PLHS Class of 1966.
By Roger Showley / U-T San Diego / May 18, 2012
San Diego’s Historical Resources Board voted unanimously Friday [May 18] against the Plaza de Panama plan for Balboa Park.
It was the second city board to register its opposition, following Thursday’s 5-4 vote by the Park and Recreation Board. The Planning Commission is scheduled to act June 7 and the City Council, July 9.
Earlier the park’s Balboa Park Committee voted 7-4 in favor and various community planning groups have expressed their views pro and con.
“Decisive votes are mounting as San Diego city boards and commissions that oversee Balboa Park and its historic resources register a resounding No! to this deeply flawed vision,” said Bruce Coons, executive director of the Save Our Heritage Organisation, in a press release following the vote.
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Opposition to the controversial Plaza de Panama plan for Balboa Park is building into a groundswell, as the design team’s cost estimates balloon, from $40 million to $45 million in a matter of days, and doubts arise over completing construction by 2015, the centennial of the Panama-California Exposition. These serious drawbacks bolster the long-standing, documented concerns of historic preservationists.
Decisive votes are mounting, as San Diego city boards and commissions that oversee Balboa Park and its historic resources, register a resounding No! to this deeply flawed vision. Residents, designers and civic leaders are joining preservationists in voting down the plan backed by City Hall that would forever damage Balboa Park by adding a so-called Centennial Bridge and massive bypass, among other irreversible intrusions to the beloved park.
The powerful Park and Recreation Board voted against the plan on Thursday, as did the Historical Resources Board today (Friday, May 18) in a unanimous vote with strongly voiced opposition to the bypass bridge. The House of Pacific Relations last week voted against the plan and chose instead the alternate Lewis Plan, described below. This 6,000-member group is the first park institution to have taken an actual membership vote on the issue.
The Plaza de Panama plan has also alarmed national and state preservation officials. Both the National Parks Service and the State Historic Preservation Officer, M. Wayne Donaldson, have written to the city with grave concerns. They maintain that the renowned park’s unique buildings, gardens and landscapes would be so altered by this proposal that their National Historic Landmark District status would be in jeopardy.
The plan grew out of decades-old dissatisfaction with parking in the Plaza de Panama, at the center of the park. No one disagrees with this goal, but over 30 organizations, and the vast majority of San Diegans strongly argue that other alternatives should be considered.
Alternatives include the comprehensive Lewis plan which Save Our Heritage Organisation, San Diego County’s largest preservation group, strongly supports. This plan is superior because it does no harm to the park’s historic features, restores the Alcazar Garden and west entrance to the park, creates more parking spaces and fewer traffic conflicts than the Sanders plan and would cost $5 million to $10 million less, according to William S. Lewis, the architect and developer who created the alternative plan pro bono out of love for Balboa Park and great respect for the Expo’s original architect Bertram Goodhue.
Opponents note these key design flaws in the Sanders plan:
- The bypass bridge off the historic Cabrillo Bridge and parking structure amount to “overkill,” wrote former city architect and current Park and Recreation Commission member Michael Stepner in an e-mail urging the commission to reject the Jacobs plan.
- The three-level garage would require the most expensive approach to construction, costing a whopping $40,000 to $90,000 per space, while gaining only 261 new parking spaces with 100 of those reserved for valet parking.
- Paying for the garage would necessitate introducing paid parking to the park after more than a century of free parking.
- The bypass bridge and forced right hand turn required to reach the garage would put pedestrians and drivers in perpetual conflict, wrote landscape architect Michael Singleton, who, as a member of the Balboa Park Committee, voted against the Sanders plan and expressed serious concerns that the vote was being taken at all since over 100 written questions from the committee member to the DEIR had gone unanswered by the Plaza de Panama team.
- As with its historic structures, the park’s topography, landscapes and views would be forever changed and would be irreversible.
Other less costly and less intrusive parking and traffic solutions have been proposed for the park since the Jacobs plan was unveiled, but they have been ignored by Jacobs and his design team.
In addition to design issues, many San Diegans maintain that the public process for vetting this complex project has been hijacked by Mayor Jerry Sanders and Dr. Jacobs, who has threatened to withdraw his financial support if his team’s plan is not approved. This situation raises the widespread concern that future wealthy donors could also dictate changes to the park, which is in dire need of private funding, as long as they bankroll them.
SOHO urges the public to attend city board and commission meetings where the Plaza de Panama plan is being evaluated. The City Council is expected to vote on the plan on July 9.
For more information, go to www.sohosandiego.org