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There’s an interesting article in today’s San Diego Union-Tribune about a proposal to allow a private non-profit conservancy group take over control and management of Balboa Park.

In a photo blurb, the article asserts that “the cost of maintenance at Balboa Park…has become more than the city can afford.”

Let’s take a careful look at that assertion, and apply a little history lesson to it.

Around 1990 the city council adopted the current Balboa Park Master Plan. In the same vote, the city council voted to add one cent to the then existing city transient occupancy tax (TOT) charged to hotel visitors. These additional TOT funds were specifically earmarked for the maintenance of Balboa Park and Mission Bay Park, and the city was not supposed to be allowed to use those additional tax funds for any other purposes.

If the city had stuck to the master plan, and obeyed its own ordinances, that extra penny in TOT taxes the council adopted with the plan would have generated enough money to have completed all the work envisioned in the master plan and would have plenty of money now for park maintenance.

Unfortunately, we found out that later in the 1990s Mayor Susan Golding and the city council diverted the TOT money earmarked for Balboa Park to help pay for the expansion of Qualcomm Stadium, and to help build the downtown ballpark.

Before considering the notion of turning over Balboa Park maintenance to a private non-profit company or conservancy, the city needs to fully account for how it has used the additional TOT taxes it adopted about 16 years ago to fund implementation of the Balboa Park Master Plan and pay for ongoing park maintenance. If it was used to subsidize corporate welfare, perhaps those parties who benefited from those subsidies should now be asked to chip in some of their profits to repay the city and help fund maintenance of Balboa Park.

DON WOOD

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