Suit and Sparks Over San Diego’s Approval of Irwin Jacob’s Balboa Park Redevelopment Plan

by on August 4, 2011 · 7 comments

in Environment, San Diego

Editor:  San Diego billionaire Irwin Jacob wants to redevelop Balboa Park, and the City of San Diego gave tentative approval recently in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). In response, SOHO -the Save Our Heritage group – has sued the City. Then in reaction to the suit, the City Attorney has immediately moved to have it dismissed as “frivolous” – scroll down the page for that article by Roger Showley of the U-T.

SOHO Files Suit Over City of San Diego’s Approval of  the Plaza de Panama Circulation & Parking Structure Project

SAN DIEGO, CA – On August 2, 2011, Save Our Heritage Organization (SOHO) sued the City of San Diego in Superior Court regarding its failure to comply with state environmental laws in prematurely approving a contract with the Plaza de Panama Committee regarding the controversial Balboa Park Parking and Circulation Project.

SOHO is requesting that the Court order the City to set aside its “Memorandum of Understanding” contract with the Plaza de Panama Committee while the state-mandated environmental review process is pending. The MOU is not needed prior to conducting environmental review. It is a detailed agreement delineating terms for funding and constructing the $40 million Balboa Park Circulation and Parking Project. Scores of San Diego residents and organizations contend that the project would have devastating impacts on the iconic architecture and cultural landscapes of Balboa Park, a national historic landmark.

Although the MOU recites the City’s obligation to conduct full environmental review and consideration of alternatives, the inescapable point of the contract was explained by Plaza de Panama Committee Chair Irwin Jacobs, who requested that the Council “agree” with his project’s “vision and goals” just as expressed in the MOU. Otherwise, it was made clear, the Committee would walk away from the project as it did in June when the Rules Committee declined to endorse the MOU.

The lawsuit notes that against the vociferous objections of SOHO and many concerned citizens who support the study of environmentally-superior alternatives that would meet Park goals while protecting the historic integrity of the world-famous landmark, before considering the MOU, the City Council capitulated and adopted the MOU without first complying with the mandates of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

It is simply too early to commit to the “vision” of the Plaza de Panama project as now proposed. The California Supreme Court recently reiterated that actions short of a formal, binding approval are illegally premature if they move a project’s momentum significantly forward before environmental review is complete, even if contingent on eventual CEQA compliance. SOHO contends that as a practical matter the MOU will have environmental consequences by influencing the shape of future development in Balboa Park.

Actions speak louder than words. SOHO’s suit contends that the totality of the City’s actions render the MOU an unlawful pre-commitment to the Plaza de Panama project as currently conceived. The MOU should be set aside pending the City’s certification of an adequate environmental impact report that fairly considers project alternatives and mitigations out of the shadow of the MOU.

“Setting aside this MOU is the only way to ensure that the City will take a fair and open look at the alternative solutions to parking and traffic issues, impacts to the historic and cultural needs and the restoration of Balboa Park favored by San Diego citizens and Balboa Park supporters statewide,” said SOHO Executive Director Bruce Coons.

SOHO is San Diego’s only countywide historic preservation organization. Through education, advocacy, and stewardship SOHO’s mission is to preserve, promote and support preservation of the architectural, cultural and historical links and landmarks that contribute to the community identity, depth and character of our region.


City attorney asks SOHO to drop park lawsuit

Preservation group declines, vows to press forward on overturning Plaza de Panama memo

 By Roger Showley / SignOnSanDiego /  August 3, 2011

City Attorney Jan Goldsmith struck back Wednesday against the Save Our Heritage Organization over the preservation’s group’s challenge to proposed changes to the center of Balboa Park.

Within four hours of receiving a copy of the SOHO lawsuit, Goldsmith said his staff prepared a 30-page court request to dismiss the case, but asked SOHO to drop its case first. If that happens, the city would not seek sanctions for filing what he called a “frivolous lawsuit.”

“To be clear,” Goldsmith said in a letter to SOHO’s attorney, “I have no opinion on the proposed project. The only purpose of this request is to avoid the expense of litigating this meritless case and to allow public discourse to continue.”

SOHO Executive Director Bruce Coons said he would not drop the case and the organization has a legal defense fund sufficient to press ahead. He said the city’s threat to seek sanctions amounts to a “slap suit” and SOHO could countersue for damages.

For the remainder of this article, please go here.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Allen Lewis August 5, 2011 at 1:52 am

Growing up in OB I didn’t know I lived in a big city called San Diego. We would go on road trips to a place called down town where there were big buildings and a lot of shopping, (that was downtown San Diego before Mission Vally). After the shopping we would go to a beautiful park and have a picnic, witch is Balboa Park . I could go on about how much this park means to us that grew up in OB. The trips to the park at Christmas, the love in’s in the early 60’s, and busking with my band…I could go on. Today this park is purity much the same as it was in the day. To change it would be a big loss. Balboa Park should be a historical monument, and the fact that no one has any comments to post on this saddens me, and tells me that most living in OB has no history to the place they know live.


Bruce Coons August 5, 2011 at 9:45 am

Hi Allen I grew up in OB and Loma Portal and am now fighting this. The historic core of Balboa Park is a National Historic Landmark the very highest designation the nation can bestow. That does not stop some people though. Thank you for your comments.


Allen Lewis August 5, 2011 at 11:08 am

If there is anything I can do to help I will. I hope you have a lot of support, the government in SD is a very corrupt entity.


Terrie Leigh Relf August 5, 2011 at 12:58 pm

I spent many of my formative years–and then some–in Balboa Park. My mom had a studio in Spanish Village for about 20 years. My kids played on the merry-go-round, etc.

I’m given to believe from this that SOHO reviewed the plans. . .I tend to trust them, of course, and it would be nice to know more. Is this area right where the Prado, etc., is? I can’t imagine where they would put a circular drive, etc.

It is not, from what I understand, a frivilous lawsuit. These powerbrokers just want their own way, right? It sounds as if they don’t care what the taxplayers think as usual, nor care about preserving historical sites if it interferes with their interests.


Looking forward to hearing more about all these.



JEC August 5, 2011 at 1:21 pm

It takes time to embrace change. Most land use developments meet resistance. But as nearly as I can tell, in this case, people are ready for change. They have embraced the idea of moving cars out of the park. Just not this idea. For all Jacob’s success in electronics, he doesn’t seem to grasp land use design. But then he, Sanders and the rest are in a hurry. One idea is as good as any other so, to meet their schedule, they seized the first idea that floated by and appreviated the EIR. Why? As Roger Snowley’s mentions in the last paragraph of his story; to complete the project in time for the 100th Anniversary of the 1915 Pan-American Exposition. Ironically, the original buildings were also thrown up in haste to meet a self-imposed deadline. Built to be temporary, the orginal buildings quickly decayed. Lasting well beyond their expected life, we San Diegans paid to have completely rebuilt as permenant structures. A portion of that debt can still be found buried in the city’s bond payments. This project as proposed lacks vision, will be thrown up in haste to meet a self-imposed deadline and will in all likelihood require future citizens to rebuild it. SOHO’s suit if far from frivolous.


unWASHEdwalmaRtthONG August 9, 2011 at 3:30 pm

Any change to Balboa Park should be preceded by a new bathroom at Brighton Ave.


Leave a Comment

{ 1 trackback }

Older Article:

Newer Article: