Photo by Sam Hodgson
The Plaza de Panama in Balboa Park
Everybody loves Balboa Park. Send the curmudgeons who don’t my way and I’ll regale them with my favorite features.
But not everybody agrees how it should look in the future. One of the boldest plans in decades is on the table now.
You might’ve heard about the plans to get cars out of the plaza right in front of the Museum of Art. But it’s been tricky to keep up with all of the information flying around in the two years since Mayor Jerry Sanders and Qualcomm co-founder Irwin Jacobs unveiled their plan. They want to build a new road to a new parking structure, diverting traffic from the plaza.
Now it’s getting close to decision time. Sanders and Jacobs are hoping the City Council votes in their favor July 9. They want to start construction with an eye on finishing up by 2015, the 100-year anniversary of the exposition that created many of the park’s most iconic structures and spaces.
But the plan has stirred up controversy from historic preservationists who say the plan would destroy the park’s historic character at its west entrance. They’ve floated their own plans and tried to garner public support.
We’ve been following the story since the plan’s unveiling. Here’s how to understand the basics so you know what to watch for on July 9.
I. Watch a Three-Minute Explainer:
If you want to see the concept the council will consider July 9, check out our video explainer.
II. Understand the Plan on the Table:
The mayor and Jacobs want to get rid of the cars in the Plaza de Panama, where thousands of cars a day duke it out with pedestrians. They want to build a side road off of the end of the Cabrillo Bridge. If you’re in your car heading over the bridge into the park, you’d turn right before you get to the ornate archway entrance, onto a new road. That’d take you into the Alcazar Gardens parking lot, where you could park if you’re disabled, drop off your kids or pay for valet service. If that’s not you, you keep going toward a new multi-level parking structure behind the Spreckels Organ Pavilion. The plan envisions more parkland on top of that structure, so once you take the elevator up to the top of the structure, you can walk straight across to the organ pavilion and on up to the rest of the institutions along El Prado.
The plan is now estimated to cost $45 million. Jacobs promised to privately fundraise all of the cost except for a bond for between $12 million and $14 million that is supposed to be covered by visitors paying $5 to park in the new structure.
III. Understand the Opposition
Preservationists with the Save Our Heritage Organisation and other opponents argue against that bypass road. They say it could undermine the park’s historic designation, a threat which couldn’t be settled for certain until the new road was finished and evaluated. They think Jacobs’ plan would irreparably damage the original way the park was designed a century ago.
They also recently floated a new plan we wrote about this week, which directs traffic along peripheral roads instead of the bypass bridge. They don’t have their own funding so they hope Jacobs sees things their way and pays for their plan. He says he won’t.
IV. Watch What Happens Next:
In its July 9 meeting, the City Council could vote to approve the Jacobs plan, to further explore the alternatives from its environmental review, to study the new plan SOHO prefers, to do nothing or to consider a whole different plan nobody’s raised yet.
V. Join the Discussion
Your fellow readers haven’t been shy about telling us what they think. The most recent comment thread includes vociferous support, vitriolic slams and thoughts from a guy who went to a walking tour expecting to hate the Jacobs plan and came away loving it.
Tell us: What do you think the city should do?
Disclosure: Jacobs is a major donor to Voice of San Diego.
I’m Kelly Bennett, arts editor for Voice of San Diego. You can reach me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619.325.0531.
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