What Preservationists Want at the Plaza de Panama

What Preservationists Want at the Plaza de Panama

Photo by Sam Hodgson

The Plaza de Panama in Balboa Park

 

In 1992, San Diego adopted a highly detailed, long-term plan for renovations to Balboa Park’s Central Mesa, the main tourist area that includes its museums, pedestrian plazas and other attractions like the Spreckels Organ Pavilion.

The Central Mesa Precise Plan was the result of years’ worth of planning and discussions between city officials, park institutions and advocates. It is the document that preservationists now cite in opposing a major renovation proposed by Qualcomm co-founder Irwin Jacobs that would eliminate parking and traffic from the Plaza de Panama and turn it into a pedestrian square.

It is also the document that provides the foundation for the main alternative proposed by the Save Our Heritage Organisation, which is leading the charge against Jacobs’ plan.

Reclaiming the plaza for pedestrians has always been a goal in the Precise Plan. The preservationists agree with that goal, but not with the way Jacobs has proposed achieving it — by building a bridge to reroute cars away from the plaza and toward a new underground parking structure in the center of the park.

SOHO calls its alternative the Precise Plan Lite, because it would incorporate some but not all elements of the original plan. Most notably, it would not build a new parking garage behind the Organ Pavilion.

Here’s what SOHO’s plan proposes:

Cars would enter and exit Balboa Park by crossing the Cabrillo Bridge, as they do today. They would drive through the Prado, into the Plaza de Panama, and turn south toward the existing parking lots.

SOHO’s proposed traffic plan | Graphic courtesy of SOHO

You can see that in the SOHO plan, the Plaza de Panama would be partially transformed into a pedestrian square. It would eliminate the parking spaces currently there, but continue to route traffic through the plaza. This layout would eliminate the need to build the new bypass bridge, seen here in the Jacobs plan, that would reroute cars before they’ve entered the Prado:

Designer’s rendering courtesy of the Plaza de Panama Committee

That bridge is the most controversial element of the Jacobs plan because preservationists believe it would destroy the historic character of the park entrance. Jacobs’ plan would look like this:

Designer’s rendering courtesy of the Plaza de Panama Committee

Jacobs wants to build the bridge because it would allow the city to completely remove cars and traffic from the Plaza de Panama, not partially.

Preservationists believe their plan is preferable because it follows the one laid out in the heavily-vetted Precise Plan, which envisions eliminating parking from the plaza while continuing to run traffic through one corner of it.

But how to replace those parking spots is where SOHO’s plan differs from the Precise Plan. To replace them, the Precise Plan proposes building an underground parking garage behind the Organ Pavilion, which Jacobs’ plan would also do along with a rooftop park.

Designer’s rendering courtesy of the Plaza de Panama Committee

Preservationists want to replace that parking by slightly expanding and reconfiguring existing parking lots nearby. It wouldn’t change much from how it looks today.

Photo courtesy of the Plaza de Panama Committee

Bruce Coons, SOHO’s director, acknowledged that his organization’s plan differs from the vetted plan by not building the garage that both the adopted plan and Jacobs envision. But Coons said SOHO’s plan wouldn’t preclude the parking garage from being built at some point in the future, since it is in the Precise Plan.

“We just think this is the way to start, we’re not saying this is the end product,” he said.

At the same time, though, SOHO wants to see fewer cars in the Central Mesa, not more, which a garage could attract.

Mayor Jerry Sanders’ office has taken issue with several elements of the SOHO plan. Mainly, that it does not completely eliminate cars from the plaza and the Prado and may cause traffic backups as cars stream through the plaza. Jacobs has said he would not fund a project that did not eliminate all cars from the plaza.

Also, the reconfiguration of the existing parking lots would likely trigger costly improvements required under the Americans with Disabilities Act, something the cash-strapped city would have to find a way to pay for.

Coons acknowledged that, but said SOHO’s alternative is the only plan he thought could be completed by 2015, the city’s self-imposed deadline to get the plaza ready for the 100th anniversary celebration of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition.

Sanders believes Jacobs’ plan could also be completed by 2015. But SOHO has filed a lawsuit challenging it and has vowed to continue fighting the effort.

Disclosure: Irwin Jacobs is a major supporter of voiceofsandiego.org

Adrian Florido is a reporter for voiceofsandiego.org. He covers San Diego’s neighborhoods. What should he write about next?

Contact him directly at adrian.florido@voiceofsandiego.org or at 619.325.0528.

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Adrian Florido

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28 comments
Richard Ross
Richard Ross subscribermember

ob's could then donate that amount to his underfunded new downtown library.

Activist
Activist

ob's could then donate that amount to his underfunded new downtown library.

Jim Neri
Jim Neri subscribermember

The plan that closes the Plaza de Panama (notice it was not named the Parking de Panama) to vehicular traffic is the right plan for San Diego. ADA, aesthetics, and ego issues can all be worked out in the process. As our city grows, this space along with Horton Plaza (notice the winning design for this public space did not include vehicular circulation through the plaza), will provide public forums for future debates but we are running out of time on this one so LET'S GET ON WITH IT!

Jimmer
Jimmer

The plan that closes the Plaza de Panama (notice it was not named the Parking de Panama) to vehicular traffic is the right plan for San Diego. ADA, aesthetics, and ego issues can all be worked out in the process. As our city grows, this space along with Horton Plaza (notice the winning design for this public space did not include vehicular circulation through the plaza), will provide public forums for future debates but we are running out of time on this one so LET'S GET ON WITH IT!

Fred Logan
Fred Logan subscriber

The millions proposed for the reconstruction can be put into a trust to fund the transportaion service.

FredL29
FredL29

The millions proposed for the reconstruction can be put into a trust to fund the transportaion service.

ll noia
ll noia subscribermember

If I had to choose between the two, I would choose the Jacobs Plan because I would love to see all cars removed from the Plaza. I always avoid that area entirely because I prefer not to be around traffic and cars while strolling or biking through the park. However my top preference would be that any new parking structures be built offsite with tram service into the park. There are some great views from the bridge, close it to cars, everyone will adjust and the plaza and bridge can be enjoyed by all.

llnoia
llnoia

If I had to choose between the two, I would choose the Jacobs Plan because I would love to see all cars removed from the Plaza. I always avoid that area entirely because I prefer not to be around traffic and cars while strolling or biking through the park. However my top preference would be that any new parking structures be built offsite with tram service into the park. There are some great views from the bridge, close it to cars, everyone will adjust and the plaza and bridge can be enjoyed by all.

Richard W. Amero
Richard W. Amero subscriber

What SOHO is not saying is that the 1989 plan they endorse calls for one-way east bound traffic during the daytime and two-way east and westbound at night. The Plaza de Panama is not the biggest plaza in the world, not by a long short. As with the Plaza de California, the institutions that align the plaza are anxious to incorporate its open spaces. This should be encouraged as the institutions working together can provide a lively fun-filled space that would draw people to it. By continuing to route two-way traffic on the south quadrants of Plaza de Panama SOHO would deny the Mingei Museum and the House of Hospitality the opportunity to enhance these grand open spaces for the mutual benefit of themselves and the people of San Diego.

Richard W Amero
Richard W Amero

What SOHO is not saying is that the 1989 plan they endorse calls for one-way east bound traffic during the daytime and two-way east and westbound at night. The Plaza de Panama is not the biggest plaza in the world, not by a long short. As with the Plaza de California, the institutions that align the plaza are anxious to incorporate its open spaces. This should be encouraged as the institutions working together can provide a lively fun-filled space that would draw people to it. By continuing to route two-way traffic on the south quadrants of Plaza de Panama SOHO would deny the Mingei Museum and the House of Hospitality the opportunity to enhance these grand open spaces for the mutual benefit of themselves and the people of San Diego.

john eisenhart
john eisenhart subscriber

What we have here is a myopic scientist and a career policeman getting together to implement a "efficient" plan for humanity. The minions fall to their knees, worship big authority while hoping for fame, fortune and favors. But ahh, its the People's park. I predict the Eloi will beat back the Morlocks and implement SOHO's plan.

mr architect
mr architect

What we have here is a myopic scientist and a career policeman getting together to implement a "efficient" plan for humanity. The minions fall to their knees, worship big authority while hoping for fame, fortune and favors. But ahh, its the People's park. I predict the Eloi will beat back the Morlocks and implement SOHO's plan.

mlaiuppa
mlaiuppa subscriber

I think it's great SOHO is trying to comply with the Balboa Park plan. City Heights had a comprehensive community neighborhood plan in which all stakeholders in the community had extensive input. That has now been tossed aside, ignored or simply violated for the expediency of a few wishing to develop pet projects. The excuse is always money. That doesn't make up for the losses involved.

mlaiuppa
mlaiuppa

I think it's great SOHO is trying to comply with the Balboa Park plan. City Heights had a comprehensive community neighborhood plan in which all stakeholders in the community had extensive input. That has now been tossed aside, ignored or simply violated for the expediency of a few wishing to develop pet projects. The excuse is always money. That doesn't make up for the losses involved.

Brent Bernasconi
Brent Bernasconi subscriber

How about just closing off the bridge and the plaza to all traffic and avoid building any new bridges. People would eventually learn alternative routes and possibly look into alternative modes of transportation. Just a thought.

bernasconi
bernasconi

How about just closing off the bridge and the plaza to all traffic and avoid building any new bridges. People would eventually learn alternative routes and possibly look into alternative modes of transportation. Just a thought.

Dan Soderberg
Dan Soderberg subscriber

I was referring to the San Diego Zoo which offered to put up $64 million dollars for a comprehensive parking and traffic solution for the park.

Dan Soderberg
Dan Soderberg

I was referring to the San Diego Zoo which offered to put up $64 million dollars for a comprehensive parking and traffic solution for the park.

Dan Soderberg
Dan Soderberg subscriber

pedestrian zone. One thing is for sure If a bypass is built no such study will ever be done, and it ensures the automobile remains king of the park for the next 100 years.

Dan Soderberg
Dan Soderberg

pedestrian zone. One thing is for sure If a bypass is built no such study will ever be done, and it ensures the automobile remains king of the park for the next 100 years.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

There is no need to remake the park, this entire thing is just another attempt by Irwin Jacobs to put his name on something.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

There is no need to remake the park, this entire thing is just another attempt by Irwin Jacobs to put his name on something.

Clif Williams
Clif Williams subscriber

Thank you voiceofsandiego for putting this together. I think this shows that the Jacobs Plan (or better, the Pedestrian Preferred Plan) is superior to the one that SOHO is pushing. Come on....really! You will barely be able to see the bypass bridge, and SO WHAT if you do see it? It doesn't detract from the over all beauty that is Balboa Park. It also takes all the cars out of the central area. BRAVO! Pedestrians Win! Also, I don't think anyone can argue that keeping an ugly surface parking lot behind the organ pavillion is preferrable to creating more parking so people can easily enjoy the park (remember we all still drive here in SoCal), AND a rooftop garden which hides the parking lot. Let's get real folks. The new plan is better. BUILD IT!!!! Stop DITHERING!!!!!!!!!

cwilliams
cwilliams

Thank you voiceofsandiego for putting this together. I think this shows that the Jacobs Plan (or better, the Pedestrian Preferred Plan) is superior to the one that SOHO is pushing. Come on....really! You will barely be able to see the bypass bridge, and SO WHAT if you do see it? It doesn't detract from the over all beauty that is Balboa Park. It also takes all the cars out of the central area. BRAVO! Pedestrians Win! Also, I don't think anyone can argue that keeping an ugly surface parking lot behind the organ pavillion is preferrable to creating more parking so people can easily enjoy the park (remember we all still drive here in SoCal), AND a rooftop garden which hides the parking lot. Let's get real folks. The new plan is better. BUILD IT!!!! Stop DITHERING!!!!!!!!!

Charles Rickman
Charles Rickman subscribermember

The conceptual drawing in this article is totally unrealistic. In reality the entrance to the plaza de panama has and entry driveway and and exit driveway that take up almost all the entire south end of the plaza. To say this concept would only take up a corner of the plaza is just plain wrong.Beside this concept does not allow for a tram that SOHO certainly touted in their meetings, and that was never in the precise plan. The better idea seems to reclaim the plaza for pedestrians, get ride of the cars completely. Do you realize if we did this it would be the largest plaza in the world! What a wonderful thing! It also would allow for the use of the plaza in front of the Museum of Man that never can be used with the SOHO plan!

tellmewhy
tellmewhy

The conceptual drawing in this article is totally unrealistic. In reality the entrance to the plaza de panama has and entry driveway and and exit driveway that take up almost all the entire south end of the plaza. To say this concept would only take up a corner of the plaza is just plain wrong.Beside this concept does not allow for a tram that SOHO certainly touted in their meetings, and that was never in the precise plan. The better idea seems to reclaim the plaza for pedestrians, get ride of the cars completely. Do you realize if we did this it would be the largest plaza in the world! What a wonderful thing! It also would allow for the use of the plaza in front of the Museum of Man that never can be used with the SOHO plan!

Jim Abbott
Jim Abbott subscribermember

San Diego has been given a great gift in the Jacobs' plan - not to mention the money that comes with it. Like all gracious people, we should smile, offer thanks our thanks and finally NOT do something half-assed.

SanDiegoNative
SanDiegoNative

San Diego has been given a great gift in the Jacobs' plan - not to mention the money that comes with it. Like all gracious people, we should smile, offer thanks our thanks and finally NOT do something half-assed.