Opponents of the current plans to remove cars and parking from Balboa Park’s Plaza de Panama and turn it into a pedestrian square are attacking the proposal on several fronts. One target is the bypass bridge that would lead cars to a new underground parking structure in the center of the park.

Another is the parking structure itself, whose rooftop park would replace the asphalt parking lot that’s behind the Spreckels Organ Pavilion today. The images below are designers’ renderings unless otherwise noted.

These are aerial views of the before and after:

But it’s the view from the ground that’s got park preservationists upset. They believe it would too-dramatically alter the park’s natural landscape.

To understand why, you have to understand how it would be built, and how cars would get into the structure after crossing the historic Cabrillo Bridge to enter the park. First, cars would cross the Cabrillo Bridge as they do today. But instead of driving through the Plaza de Panama on their way to parking behind the Spreckels Organ Pavilion, they would turn off onto the new bypass bridge. After crossing that bridge, a new road would lead them to the parking structure. From there, visitors could walk or take a tram to the Plaza de Panama.

The pedestrian walkway and tram route to the plaza would depart from the rooftop park. They would be level with the Plaza de Panama.

But the road leading to the parking structure would not be. From the bypass bridge, it would gradually descend below ground level, because that’s where the entrance to the garage is. As you drove toward the parking structure’s entrance, you’d pass under the tram route and the rooftop park overhead. The road would essentially be dug into the ground, and it would require retaining walls along the side to keep the earth from sliding.

This diagram shows the tram and pedestrian routes to the plaza on the right. They would be level with the rooftop park and the Plaza de Panama. On the left, you can see how the road leading into the parking structure would be on a lower grade, so it could pass underneath the tram route to get you to the garage’s entrance:

This is a view of the parking garage from the east, with the entrance to the garage on the lower right. Notice the way the road has descended lower than the rooftop, which is where the tram would depart to the plaza:

This is a view from the south, which shows the tram on the rooftop on the left, and the entrance to parking garage on the right:

This is a designer’s rendering of the completed project, with the rooftop park and parking garage in the center and the renovated Plaza de Panama visible on the upper right:

Mayor Jerry Sanders, who supports the plan, has argued that the proposed changes would successfully reclaim the Plaza de Panama for pedestrians while adding parking spaces and more green space with the rooftop park. But opponents of the project don’t like any of it. They say that all the digging to put in the parking lot, the new road and the retaining walls along it would detract from the landscape’s natural flow.

On Tuesday, the City Council is expected to vote on whether to support the plan going forward.

Disclosure: Irwin Jacobs, the Qualcomm co-founder and philanthropist who is leading the proposed Plaza de Panama project, is a major donor to voiceofsandiego.org.

Please contact Adrian Florido directly at adrian.florido@voiceofsandiego.org or at 619.325.0528 and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/adrianflorido.

Adrian Florido is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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