What do San Diegans think about plans to change the look and configuration of some of the key parts of Balboa Park? We’ve surveyed our members to find out.

City leaders are discussing a plan that would remake Balboa Park. The proposal would restore the Plaza de Panama and Plaza de California to pedestrian-only use, build a bypass bridge off of Cabrillo Bridge and construct an underground parking garage behind Spreckels Organ Pavilion.

Philanthropist Irwin Jacobs and Mayor Jerry Sanders have led the push. Jacobs’ team designed the makeover and he’s promised to raise $25 million of the estimated $40 million project. The city would borrow the remaining money to fund the parking garage, which would be paid back with revenues from new, paid parking.

A group of preservationists staunchly opposes the plan. They believe it would destroy the park’s natural flow and historic structures. The preservationists support a plan that removes parking spaces from the plaza but allows traffic to continue through the plaza and past the organ.

A third option, closing off Cabrillo Bridge to traffic altogether, is opposed by park institutions, who believe it would harm visitor numbers.

To get a handle on the public’s opinions on this, we asked our members (those who have donated to support voiceofsandiego.org and its mission),

What do you think should be done at Balboa Park?

Out of the 841 members we emailed, 194, or 23%, responded.

In looking at the responses, it becomes clear there are more than two sides to the issue.

  • pro status quo
  • pro development
  • pro preservation
  • against preservationists
  • against spending money
  • in favor of spending a philanthropist’s money
  • against meddling philanthropists
  • pro-Jacobs
  • against meddling governments
  • pro-pedestrian
  • anti-car
  • suspicious by nature
  • etc.

And, as you might expect from such a diversity of opinions, many alternative ideas were suggested:

  • build a parking garage or parking lot on the old naval hospital site
  • build a parking garage outside of the park and shuttle people in
  • incorporate a new rail trolley link
  • build a parking garage on the zoo’s current parking lot site
  • build a parking garage at Inspiration Point
  • etc.

Below I’ve rounded up and grouped some of the responses, which may have been edited for style, grammar, spelling, or which may be truncated. You can read all of the responses here in a single document, though names and email addresses have been removed, since some respondents asked to be anonymous.

Why Now?

Paralee Riley:

Leave Balboa Park alone! As the old adage goes: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”! The City Council and Mayor have a lot more important subjects on their agenda than screwing up Balboa Park.

James Tinsky:

I walk, cycle and drive through the park 3-5 times per week. I’ve been doing this for two decades. Except in rare highly busy times, the traffic is manageable and rarely impedes pedestrian flow. A bigger impediment is valet parking for Prado.

Maybe I’ve been under a rock but what is the impetus for making this costly change in the middle of a severe economic crisis? Is traffic costing us tourist dollars or in some other way negatively impacting the cultural heart of our city?


Carolyn Barkow:

Who’s paying?

Peggy Cross:

What’s the monetary return on this? Is this going to help the city’s financial situation or add to it? I suspect the latter. I understand the need to create improvements but not at the cost of negative financial benefit and positive financial burden.

In Favor of the Jacobs Plan

Lisa Stapleton:

As long as it is cost-neutral, I like the Jacobs plan. Otherwise, I would close the bridge. I used to go there often to take my kids to summer camps in the museums. The area by the Museum of Man is pretty dangerous. My concern with any plan is access for handicapped.

Jim Lawler:

Jacobs is on the right track. Remove all the cars. Good architecture promotes people and their interaction with others and their surroundings. Don’t hang onto nostalgia for the sake of nostalgia. I want a better park. Besides we are not talking about the Parthenon — it’s Balboa Park.

Richard Wilken:

I was skeptical at first but after seeing the plan and hearing more about it, am very much in favor of the Jacobs proposal. The bypass road is not intrusive visually and will not negatively impact the historical protections. The covered parking lot behind the Organ Pavilion has long been planned and, since it will be covered by landscaping, will be a big improvement to the park. The $5/day parking fee for the underground parking is reasonable and there will still be plenty of free parking options at other nearby locations. I was reminded that when the city proposed closing the street leading from the Plaza de Panama to the Natural History Museum, there was great opposition. Yet, we can now all agree that this turned out great.

Eloise Duff:

I feel the Jacobs plan is an excellent solution to a problem that I am not sure we have. The cars in the Prado don’t bother me. But if most San Diegans feel they need to go, then I think to turn down Jacobs’ offer would be absolutely stupid. His involvement is a huge gift to the city; his offer to raise most of the money won’t be matched by anyone else. There are practical limits to “historic preservation” forced by historical changes. SOHO’s position has no reasonable other outcome than to face the reality of cars, and there is a constant stream of them into the park across the bridge. They will become a big bottleneck if forced to still go into the Prado to make a right toward the garage. The garage itself should be built however we decide to get the cars in to it!

Anne Farrell:

I have some concerns about there being adequate handicapped parking options for visitors to the SDMA, Mingei, etc., but can definitely see the benefit of returning that plaza to an open public space unfettered by cars and the noise and fumes that come along with them. It is a shame that the debate has gotten so shrill and accusatory. The Jacobs have been perhaps the most generous benefactors San Diego has ever known, and this plan was conceived with only the best intentions. SOHO has shown itself to be obstructionist and unreasonable in opposition to projects all over our county — and while we all appreciate and revere the past and believe in preservation when it is appropriate, we also should consider the highest and best use of public places like the Plaza de Panama.

Marjorie Walhsten:

I usually agree with the preservationists, but having seen renderings of the Jacobs plan, I think it makes the most sense to improve parking and pedestrian flow. If it is built as presented, the bypass bridge is not intrusive on the historic view of the park. Of course, I realize that the final product isn’t always what you thought it would be.

Robert Baker:

If the parking garage can’t be accessed any other way than the Jacobs plan, then I would vote for the Jacobs plan. But in a perfect world, close the Cabrillo Bridge to all auto traffic.

In my view, the Jacobs plan is a compromise and probably the best we can do to satisfy as many citizens and park organizations as possible.

I like the idea of the parking garage even if there’s a fee. The useable park space on top of the garage is a great idea also. If only the garage could be accessed without traffic on the Cabrillo Bridge.

John Stanton:

First off, I have to say that this debate is so incredibly civil compared to the one that just happened in Washington DC that it is amazing! I feel no urge to throttle any of the participants. 😉

Let’s Do Something With Naval Land

William Burgoyne:

The solution is on the east side of the park. They have done nothing with the old Naval Hospital site. This should be the transportation hub, with tunnel and trolleys.

Kathleen Steele:

Close the bridge on the weekends, and have the entry on the east side by the Naval Hospital off Park to Presidents way.

Matt Nilsen:

All I would add to this is a parking solution should be incorporated, but away from the center of the park. Maybe on the Naval Hospital grounds under agreement for shared use and revenue. Or place the parking near the southwest corner.

ML Rudee:

No parking on the Plaza. Bridge one way in to Park. Immediate right turn to Valet Parking in front of Mingei. Parking behind Mingei for valet and handicapped. Everyone else continues to behind organ pavilion or to old Naval Hospital lot. Great improvement in shuttle system.

Maria Penny:

If there is no parking at the plaza, people coming in from Park Boulevard will not bother to go there. People coming in from the Cabrillo Bridge will still need to park passing through the plaza. If the trolley from the parking by the Naval Hospital ran more frequently and tried to accommodate Old Globe patrons, I believe fewer people would drive in using the Cabrillo Bridge and would enter the park from the south instead.

Fran Zimmerman:

Send cars to peripheral lots or garages at Naval Hospital and zoo and anywhere else outside the boundaries of the park itself.

Alice Hartsuyker:

I almost voted for the Jacobs plan, but omitting traffic from the Cabrillo Bridge is too extreme. Underground parking is desirable but why not more use of parking lots out of the park, e.g. the old Naval Hospital lot, with trolleys carrying people in? This is used on a limited scale now. Aesthetically,the plaza should be car-free. It could then be used for cultural activities.

One Should Not Throw One’s Weight Around

Sheri Harris:

Any changes wrought on the park should not be due to the wealth and influence of one individual. Should Irwin Jacobs wish to have his/his wife’s name memorialized, let him construct a performing art’s center — close to one of the Qualcomm campuses.

Diane and Dennis Nygaard:

I really object to the process of planning — the guy who pays get to decide and not the community. This park belongs to everyone so the public voice is important and seems to have been ignored.

A Bit of Perspective

Carina Wheatley:

I think it’s best to close Cabrillo Bridge to all traffic, except perhaps a handicapped person shuttle. The bridge itself is beautiful and offers a lovely view and stunning entrance to the park. I disagree that closing the bridge will reduce traffic. Think of how other famous pedestrian bridges are used around the world. St. Charles Bridge, in Prague, hosts local artists and musicians. Bring in more local vendors. Give folks something engaging while they’re walking and you’ll have a winner. No bypass. No traffic.

Dan Allen:

I don’t think there is much wrong with the plans the city Park and Recreation Department has developed for Balboa Park over the years with citizen inputs. The problem is that the plans never get implemented. I was on the Park and Recreation Board in the 1980s, and the objective to remove cars from the Plaza de Panama was well supported then. 30 years later it has still not been realized.

Richard Amero:

I have been looking at photos of the Alcantara Bridge at Alcantara, supposedly the bridge from which Frank P. Allen, Jr. got his inspiration for the design of Cabrillo Bridge. Goodhue submitted a drawing of a bridge based on the design of the Alcantara Bridge at Toledo, Spain which was rejected by the Park Commissioners. Both bridges in Spain were of masonry construction and spanned the Tagus River. The bridge in Balboa Park is actually a false bridge as it hides behind a curtain wall the steel and iron that was used to hold up the bridge. While the bridges in Spain still preserve their engineering ingenuity, the bridge in Balboa Park has been criticized as being too naked. The view of the bridge in Balboa Park is obscured and diminished by traffic pouring through Balboa Park today that was not there in 1915. The river in Extremadura still flows under the Spanish bridges and similarly in 1915 a lily pond stood at the base of Cabrillo Bridge. It ain’t all it’s cranked up to be!

Richard Ross:

There are many misleading assumptions about automobiles and the Plaza De Panama. It is well documented that cars have passed through the Plaza since Franklin D. Roosevelt was driven through in 1914. At times the Cabrillo bridge and the Plaza were shut down to auto traffic since 1914 and that can continue on an ongoing basis.

What is not needed is an egocentric philanthropist destroying the history of the entryway to Balboa Park on one hand and increasing costs with unneeded structures on the other. At public meetings over 80% of the public oppose the Bypass bridge as an ugly destruction of the historical Western entryway.

SOHO’s Plan eliminates parking and is the most intelligent cost wise.

Negative Outlook

Tom Hand:

Don’t screw with success. The redevelopment plan will only benefit the fat-cat construction companies. Revoke Jacobs’ pass to the children’s zoo.

Sandy Lippe:

A lawsuit is ugly news, very ugly news. On the other hand, a heavy-handed decision by the wealthy in the community is a reminder of past deeds emanating from hiz honor’s office: overbuilding and worshipping at the altar of developers with $$$.

Compromise was a dirty word in D.C. Will it sell here in San Diego? I like Cabrillo Bridge closed and trolleys available to help old folks and disabled stationed near Park Boulevard entrance.

Other Responses

Larry Little:

If they go forward with the paid parking idea I will be notifying the Museums I am a member of that I will not be renewing my membership. This includes the zoo as well if they decide to charge for parking.

Tom Scott:

Zoo needs to build parking structure.

Linda Canada:

Adding offsite parking and improving public transportation and tram service to and within Balboa Park are all steps that may be taken while preserving the historic integrity of the Cabrillo Bridge, and the nearby buildings and gardens.

Joe Silverman:

My choice re the Plaza has the advantage of being inexpensive, easy to implement, and not destructive of any future replay of the issue. As to the future of the park itself, maybe it would be best to turn over the Prado area to the economic interests within BP (the so-called institutions), and retain the rest of BP as a conventional public park. In short, there would be a BP run by organization devoted to tourism and its economic benefits, and a BP run by the P&R dept. for the benefit of SD citizens.

Sylvia Hampton:

We should close the Cabrillo Bridge to traffic, build a larger structure at Inspiration Point and provide a comprehensive tram system.

Laura Schumacher:

The preservationist plan makes more sense now — it will cost less — can still add the parking garage although there might be better location on the rim of the park not right in the middle. The bridge could be closed to cars on Sundays or special busy days but leave it open to cars on other days. The bypass bridge could be added at a later date if needed.

Sari Reznick:

I oppose this process and the inevitable result. The City should be in charge, not a nonprofit committee. All options should be thoroughly vetted to a City committee. However, I feel that a less sweeping remedy, such as the SOHO plan is more advisable than this expensive Jacobs plan. “Retrofitting” the Laurel Street entrance with a bypass road is completely unacceptable. The park is a National Historic Site, and the architectural integrity of the entrance should not be fooled with. Having a parking garage, with no provision for extra security is foolhardy. I do not see how current park security can also patrol the garage. I don’t like the idea of it being so close to the Organ Pavilion. This plan is probably going to end of costing the city more than projected, but my main beef is with the bypass road. Thanks for this opportunity to address this issue.

If you’d like to be included in future surveys, donate to become a member.

Disclosure: Jacobs is also a major donor to voiceofsandiego.org

I’m Grant Barrett, engagement editor for voiceofsandiego.org, in part a new-fangled opinion editor. Got some strong opinions and ideas? Let me help you get them in front of tens of thousands of readers. Drop me a line at grant@voiceofsandiego.org or call me at (619) 550-5666.

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