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City Councilwoman Toni Atkins, whose district includes Balboa Park, suggested that she would be in support of plans to dramatically alter the governance of the popular icon, which could include turning over control of the park to a private conservancy.

Speaking this morning at a panel hosted by Citizens Coordinate for Century 3, a local planning group, Atkins said she saw some sort of shake-up in the management and development of the park as the “natural progression” of the city’s efforts to maintain and expand Balboa Park.

“I do think this is about governance. I don’t like the word privatization,” Atkins said.

She framed her remarks by pointing out that the any plans for changing how the park is run are still preliminary and would need to be fleshed out in detail over coming months. We first reported that the city was considering changing how the park is run in November.

The idea is fueled in large part by the city’s financial crunch and an estimated $250 million in needed maintenance at the park. A report commissioned last year by the Legler Benbough Foundation concluded that “Balboa Park already has the makings of a private-sector support structure” and recommended that the city incorporate all of the interests that use and support the park into a more formal decision-making organ.”

Ted Medina, the head of the city’s Park and Recreation Department, said the taxpayers currently pay $14 million per year for the operation and upkeep of the park, not including the cost of fire and police services. Supporters of the governance shift hope that giving community stakeholders direct control of the park will make them more willing to donate private money to the park.

The Benbough Foundation had offered to provide funding for a blue-ribbon commission to study the creation of a conservancy, though city officials missed the deadline for submitting a grant proposal.

Mayor Jerry Sanders has expressed initial support for the creation of a commission.

“I don’t know how much progress we’ve made there. We’re definitely in support of studying the idea,” spokesman Fred Sainz said.

VLADIMIR KOGAN

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