The Balboa Park Controversy: Cats, birds, and bridges

by on July 8, 2012 · 5 comments

in Culture, Organizing, Politics, Popular, San Diego

By Norma Damashek / NumbersRunner

I don’t know how the City Council hearing on the Balboa Park/Jacobs bypass bridge, scheduled for Monday afternoon, will end up.

I don’t know how many people will show up to support the Jacobs plan and how many will be there to condemn it.

I don’t know what the final vote will be if, indeed, there is a final vote.

But this I do know. We’re getting exactly what we should expect to get when private business is brought in to solve a public problem.

Irwin Jacobs has been at the receiving end of criticism, potshots, and denunciation since he stepped in to take care of traffic and parking problems at theLaurel Streetentrance toBalboaPark. But it’s misplaced fury.

It reminds me of the first time the cat deposited a dead bird on my kitchen floor. The kids yelled at poor pussy, berated her, told her she was bad.

But I picked up little puss (after I got rid of the feathered remains) and explained to my appalled kids that our cat was just being a cat. That’s what cats do. They catch birds. They’re so proud of themselves when they catch a bird. Our puss was being true to her nature. She was a cat.

So it is with businessmen. The successful ones (and who can question the business acumen of Irwin Jacobs?) are good at solving problems. They solve problems not your way, not my way. They do it their way. Nothing wrong with that.

Do you want to know what’s wrong? The mayor, or some big kahuna in the mayor’s office, took a public problem and put it in the hands of a private businessman. The mayor, or whichever kahuna it was, had no right to do that.

The mayor is a publicly-elected official who has the responsibility and obligation to take care of public issues through well-established public processes. That’s what the city charter, the municipal code, and state law say. That’s what regularly-scheduled official public meetings are for. That’s why we call elected officials public officials…public representatives.

Private businessmen don’t have to ask the public how to solve their problems. They should not be asked to solve our (the public’s) problems.

Mayor Sanders and whichever underling had the temerity to invent a last-minute legacy project to memorialize the mayor’s wasted terms in office are the ones who deserve a hearty round of catcalls and hisses.

They bear sole responsibility for privatizing what should have been kept in the public realm and resolved through a public process.

The moral of this story? Public is public and private is private. Don’t get them mixed up. Government belongs in public hands. Business belongs in private hands. It works best when we stay true to our natures.

Norma Damashek is a long-time civic activist and past president of San Diego’s League of Women Voters. She publishes her own blog, NumbersRunner.

Graphic: Picasso painting entitled “Cat catching a bird”

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Mary C. July 8, 2012 at 11:02 am

I just sent this link, pulled a quote from Norma, and attached a note from myself to each Council member. The email list is here

This is a very young City Council. Most or all of them are going to be around for years, eventually walking their grandchildren through the Park they helped or hindered, prideful or ashamed of the decision they make on Monday.

I’ll be on Federal jury duty Monday and hopefully will have time to walk over to see and hear for myself how each speaks and votes on this issue. Can’t wait.


Marcia Patt July 8, 2012 at 11:50 am

If you want to see the impact of corporatization on a beautifully balanced, historic, natural, to – scale park environment, take a trip to San Francisco and experience the undrground parking lot under the DeYoung Museum in the heart of Golden Gate Park. Went with my daughter to see the Picasso Exhibit at the De Young Museum last October. Experienced immediate shock when the sign to parking led down a ramp to a multi-level paid parking lot that had the all of the architectural affinity with G.G. Park as the multi-level parking at Horton Plaza ! This is a great example of what NOT TO DO in our beautifully balanced, to-scale Balboa Park.

What should they have done to implement parking for great numbers of visitors in Golden Gate Park and what can be done here in Balboa Park? Fortunately, the same
respectful and low-cost, low impact plan (sorry corporate interests and construction companies.) Both Golden Gate and Balboa Park are large with extensive areas to park on the perhiphery of the park, i.e. along Park Blvd. and in large adjoining parking lots, especially on weekends when they are vacant. All that is needed is an efficient 8-10 hr. shuttle service to take visitors back and forth from these free parking areas to the center of the park, achieving a car-free environment, except for the occasional shuttles. Again and again, we see a pattern of huge money-making schemes for private companies on the part of our elected officials. Do these meet the reality-based needs (of which there are many in this economy) of our citizens? I think we all know the answer. Let’s all show up Monday to express our lack of confidence in yet another
thinly disguised self-serving phoney response to a phoney problem!


Tom Cairns July 8, 2012 at 3:06 pm

When I was in San Diego, about 10 days ago, I took a walk through the cactus garden, a botanical gem, hidden behind the Balboa Club. Many of the cactii are in bloom. A trail takes you back through Palm Canyon, and up to Alcazar Gardens. The proposed “flying bridge” will definitely impact this area, and could affect some magnificent fig trees there. It will also force the removal of the Archery Range, no doubt. And if the small road around behind the Museum of Man and down along the side of Hwy 163 is put in, it may force the removal of the cactus garden. I work for the postal service, and “businessmen” are doing to the USPS what Jacob’s Plan would do for Balboa Park. It must be stopped.


o.b.dude July 8, 2012 at 3:44 pm

Norma, you are so right about this!!! I’ve ranted plenty over the years about this very issue, the public’s misplaced propensity to become angry at developers, bankers, builders, Wal-Marts, et al (tho’ they often suck bigtime over many other issues!) who try, and in many cases succeed, in doing exactly what they want. Wrong villains. It is our elected representatives who are responsible for letting corporate interests do what they do. Every new shopping mall that supplants a neighborhood or wood, every toxic waste dump that poisons a town, every power plant that spews junk into our air — these are all approved at some level by our ELECTED officials, sometimes deliberately, sometimes by default. Like Norma’s bird-killing cat, this debate always reminds me of the old parable about the scorpion and the frog, wherein the scorpion stings the frog who is carrying him over a river, thus dooming both. Before both died, the frog asks the scorpion why he did that. “Can’t help it,” the scorpion replied. “It’s my nature.”
It is the nature of business and corporate interests, and their lobbyists and executives, to seek advantage in making a profit at all times, no matter the impact on the rest of us. It’s the business of business to do this. But it is up to the the people’s representatives, such as they are these days, to oversee the public interest in any such matter. In other words, don’t blame Exxon or Wal-Mart for the latest outrage, blame the Congress or the City Council for the outcome. It’s the main thing to remember when election day comes around.


Dianne July 10, 2012 at 11:42 am

Thank you, Norma, for so rightly redirecting our fury!! Although I’m still mad about the general lack of ethics in the corporate community.


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