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Next week the San Diego City Council will discuss the proposal to return Balboa Park’s Plaza de Panama to a place for people rather than cars. Up for debate is resentment of Irwin Jacobs for being imaginative and influential, taking his money away if things don’t go his way — a refusal by some to see new opportunities for the park, and worry about the corruption of parking lot concessions.

What’s not up for debate is the creation of a beautiful space that puts people first. All sides know that San Diegans historically and habitually stroll along El Prado. No other local, public space has the potential to become as loved as a car-free version of its centerpiece, the Plaza de Panama. This plaza will spawn numerous and yet unimagined events and will draw more people and community activities into the park.

Yet, while any debate is legitimate, this one is turning from compromise to squabble. What stands in the way of success? The answer is mostly about what to do with the roadway to be added to the eastside of the Cabrillo Bridge as part of the Jacobs’ plan.

Some have already argued for removing this auto bypass from the plan and therefore removing objections to the plan by also returning the Cabrillo Bridge to its original use as a foot entry into the park. On July 19, the City Council will discuss testing this idea. Both actions make sense to me.

Eliminating the bypass roadway accomplishes three things, and debaters should consider how these can bring them together. First, it maintains the historical and environmental integrity of the park. Second, it continues the spirit of original intent fundamental to the Jacobs’ plan. And third, it does not inconvenience those who visit the park.

Not building the bypass means keeping the eastern approach to the bridge pristine and not changing its appearance or any part of the adjacent, natural habitat. People who want to save the park will like this.

Closing the bridge to cars means people can use the entire bridge. Life is sweet at four miles an hour. And a car-free bridge will enable visitors to see and feel what it is like to quietly cross-over and enter a beautifully designed space on foot, especially in a city where the weather makes it pleasant to do so almost every day. People who want to remove cars from the plaza will like this.

There is no need for cars to enter the park from Sixth and Laurel. As the U-T points out, “a similar experiment in 1989 was deemed a success by park officials, who wanted to see the impact on traffic patterns.” The conclusion is that cars can easily enter the park from its other sides. People driving into the park will like this.

Hopefully, someone will lead the debate to a swift and positive resolution, someone like a strong mayor. But, the debate must bridge the bypass, and the simplest way to do this is to bypass the bridge.

Bob Stein lives in University City.

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