Will the Balboa Park Make-Over Include Rockscaping for the Homeless?

by on July 5, 2016 · 2 comments

in Culture, Environment, History, Homelessness, Media, Politics, San Diego

Yesterday the sweeps continued- Photo via Michael McConnell

By Doug Porter

What kind of a city is it that entertains funding a new stadium, a convention center expansion, a major events arena, gondolas, and a parks make-over, but can’t figure out a short term solution to homelessness other than criminalizing it?

That would be San Diego.

Yes, I know it’s apples and oranges–different pots of money are involved, some are subject to voter approval and others will only be indirectly supported by the taxpayer…

But … where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Presently there are a lot of moving parts in play when it comes to the future of America’s Finest City. Let me lay out a couple items for your consideration.

An All-Star Game Embarrassment?

Some day in the distant future an archivist will unearth the rest of the emails, setting out plans to cleanse the East Village in anticipation of the 2016 Major League Baseball All-Star Game. It’s clear to anybody with eyes and ears that is what’s going on.

After telling the media that rockscaping designed to disrupt homeless encampments was being installed at the request of Sherman Heights residents, Kelly Davis unearthed emails saying otherwise. In an unprecedented situation, her stories were published in both the Voice of San Diego and the Union-Tribune.

Here’s a relevant snip from VOSD:

In fact, Sherman Heights is never mentioned in dozens of emails exchanged between city staffers discussing the rock installation. Rather, the rocks were part of a larger effort to clean up the area prior to the July 12 All-Star Game and improve the flow of traffic to and from Petco Park. Early plans, emails show, called for rocks not only along Imperial Avenue, but also along two blocks of a wall lining Petco Park’s Tailgate Park as well as outside the New Central Library, all in an effort to deter camping and loitering near the ballpark during All-Star Game festivities.

via Michael McConnell

Belongings impounded via Michael McConnell

Even before the emails oozed out, there was reaction from homeless advocates, as the police department was engaged to “sweep” the streets in areas surrounding the rockscaping.

Here’s Jeeni Criscenzo, writing about her experiences:

Last week, homeless advocates, including myself, confronted the mayor for authorizing installation of a $57,000 rock bed under an overpass where homeless people frequently camped. On social media, we were accused of being bleeding hearts who were giving aid and comfort to creatures who don’t deserve our concern. They called the ugly barrier that was built without a shred of effort to be attractive, a “rock garden”! When one of our group spoke at City Council about the inhumanity of using pest-control tactics to repel human beings, two councilpersons actually giggled!

Ah, but as baseball great Yogi Berra once said, it ain’t until it’s over.

And another, via Michael McConnell

And another, via Michael McConnell

There are all kinds of activities planned during San Diego’s “baseball celebration” designed to remind the public of the indifference and hostility baked into local government towards the homeless.

These actions, ranging from protests to guerilla theater to “safe zones” for the homeless will be announced in coming days on these pages and elsewhere. Note to SDPD: the riot squad really won’t be needed–everything I’ve heard about is peaceful and legal protest.

It should be interesting to see IF the city choses to overreact OR if they can generate enough dismissive PR to encourage the national media to look away.

a sign from last time around

a sign from last time around

Balboa Park Re-Make Rises From the Dead

Mayor Kevin Faulconer held a press conference on Thursday to announce twin initiatives aimed at funding improvements in area parks.

From the Union-Tribune:

One proposal would significantly extend the life of a 2008 ballot measure that directs millions in lease revenue from Mission Bay Park each year into improvements there and in several other regional parks. The extension would allow the city to immediately fund major renovation projects, many in Balboa Park, by selling bonds supported by future revenues.

The other proposal would revive a plan approved in 2012 to replace cars and traffic in the center of Balboa Park with public gathering spaces by building a large parking garage and a bypass off the Cabrillo Bridge. A legal challenge to the plan, which would also upgrade the Plaza de Panama with a reflecting pool, was put to rest last September by the state Supreme Court.

Extending 2008’s Proposition C beyond its scheduled expiration in 2039 would require approval by a simple majority of city voters of a proposed November ballot measure, and the Plaza de Panama upgrades — estimated at roughly $50 million — would require some fund raising and approval by the City Council of a financing plan.

Wait! Wasn’t the Plaza de Panama project killed by the courts? Uh, no. Judge Timothy Taylor’s ruling was overturned on appeal… Which the State Supreme court upheld by refusing to hear the case.

So now, the city will move forward–voters aren’t being asked to weigh in on this– with removing traffic from the heart of the park, building a by-pass leading traffic to paid parking in an underground garage featuring 797 spaces on three levels beneath a rooftop park.

The mayor told reporters the original estimated cost of $45 million for the project will need to be revised to reflect new state regulations and the need to pay prevailing wages.

Some of the monies will be raised via local billionaire Irwin Jacobs. Some will have to come by borrowing money with the parking revenues as the intended source of payments.

The Union-Tribune quoted John Bolthouse, executive director of Friends of Balboa Park, saying “opposition to the project is isolated.”

Not so fast, said a representative of the Balboa Park Heritage Association, who posted the following appeal on Facebook.

Balboa ParkThis morning Mayor Faulconer announced the rebirth of the Jacobs Plan for Balboa Park.

Paid Parking in the Park for the first time, permanent scarring of the elegant simplicity and symmetry of the National Historic Landmark Cabrillo Bridge, and an unnecessary increase in thru automobile traffic in the heart of the Park.

An electrical engineer’s “solution” to an Urban Park’s future. A Plan that is fundamentally flawed, and is the antithesis of wise and future-thinking urban Park design. Parking should be done in satellite locations, and Park Guests transported to the core of the Park via a robust and free shuttle system.

Think Disneyland. Millions pay $100 or more a day to park in garages removed from the Park area, board a rapid shuttle, exit the shuttle and enter the Park. No Guest has ever proposed placing a parking garage next to Sleeping Beauty’s castle , or valet parking for Club 33.

The fight for the Park’s future will be one requiring Volunteers. Members, Donors and allies. Please join Balboa Park Heritage Association now and help preserve and defend the Park. Visit www.gofundme.com/balboaparkheritage and www.BalboaParkHeritage.org to volunteer, become a Member and donate.

Lisa Halverstadt at Voice of San Diego noted:

There was much blowback when the Plaza de Panama project was proposed years ago.

Opponents argued the project destroyed the park’s historic character and brought more cars into the center of the park, even if it diverted cars from the Plaza de Panama. Many also said the park didn’t actually need the 797 underground spots from the new garage.

But the mayor’s office said the plan is to move forward with the same general plan and that its interest is more about reclaiming six acres now covered in asphalt and turning them into public spaces – permanently.

It seems that opposition this time around is focused on studying whether the park actually needs the additional parking since the Zoo has constructed a five story parking lot for its employees and much of the Plaza de Panama is now off-limits to cars.

Jacobs, the Boogie Man

The Reader’s Matt Potter used the announcement to weave a tale of all his favorite conspiracy theories, keywords “Clinton” “Billionaire” “GOP Money” “Democrats” “Cash” and “tightly guarded secret.” (Is this really connected to Qualcomm’s need for H1B visas?)

In the middle of his tome, however, he does bring up the basis of much of the preservationist opposition:

clinton lizardOne of the staunchest foes of the Jacobs scheme was then–California state historic preservation officer Milford Wayne Donaldson, who wrote in a February 3, 2012, memo to the National Park Service:

“At great risk is the Cabrillo Bridge, its setting, the spatial relationships and special elements which define the National Historic Landmark District of Balboa Park.”

Donaldson, who began his architectural career in San Diego, called out a series of unfavorable impacts on the park resulting from the makeover, including “Demolition of 82 feet of the Cabrillo Bridge.”

I suspect things will end differently this time around for the Plaza de Panama plan. Even though City Councilman Todd Gloria and his successor Chris Ward are cool to the idea, the showing of political force at yesterday’s press conference says to me that proponents have their ducks in a row.

And then there’s the reality that voters will be asked to make decisions on two dozen or more non-candidate items on November’s menu. That’s going to mean a lot of noise for opponents to try overcoming in any (electoral or not) campaign. So if the Plaza de Panama plan is to be stopped, it will have to be through the courts, and there are too many details pending to make a call on that idea right now.


This is an excerpt from Doug Porter’s column at SDFP.


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Zen July 5, 2016 at 7:43 pm

I support any and all efforts to make more public spaces car-free, and Balboa Park is a great place to do this. I wish it were more clear from the reporting which of the plans is better on this basis.

Balboa Park Heritage Association’s plan for parking along the edge seems like a good plan.

I don’t support the tone of this organization’s statements at all.

First, they attack one of San Diego’s greatest citizens, Irwin Jacobs, as “an electrical engineer,” as if that was a bad thing.

Second, they use a reactionary-populist “No Paid Parking in Balboa Park” message to the public. More limited and expensive parking is one of the main reasons European cities are healthier and more pleasant than their American counterparts. Our American cities, year after year, get misbuilt because of laws that require ample free parking.


Obdada July 9, 2017 at 10:40 pm

Free Parking– thiS iS America.
“””European cities are healthier and more pleasant than their American counterparts…”””
Then Go, Man, Go…..


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