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This commentary originally appeared as a comment on “In Final Weeks, Opponents Float New Balboa Park Plan.

I was born and raised here and Balboa Park was basically my backyard growing up. I’ve served on the Committee of 100, and have worked in the park for many years during my youth. I am both loath and skeptical of any changes to our shared jewel, so I attended a “show and tell” over this past weekend sponsored by PlazaDePanama.org, the “Jacobs Plan” website.

I have opposed this project from the beginning. At the end of the two-hour walkthrough of the park, having every part of the plan explained in detail with mock-up pictures provided, I am now in favor of it.

There is so much more than just the creation of the bypass bridge and parking garage — the project in its entirety is performing major improvements to all the areas that will be handed back over to pedestrian traffic — and I was pleasantly surprised by the scope and magnitude of not only just how much park area pedestrians will re-inherit, but at the extensive landscaping and near-period street repaving that goes along with it.

The Cabrillo Bridge is one of the two most-traveled entryways into Balboa Park. It makes complete sense that traffic still be allowed to enjoy that historic bridge, pedestrian and vehicles alike, and the re-route lands that traffic first to a re-worked lot behind the gardens exclusive to handicapped parking and valet/pedestrian drop-off and then continues around to eventually slope gently down into the underground parking facility. Instead of a mass of cars behind the Organ Pavilion, there will be a huge expanse of grass and landscaped area. The road currently between the Organ Pavilion parking lot and the Houses of Hospitality will be pedestrian-reclaimed, as will the roads in front of the pavilion.

The automated parking garage system in your posted video (which I’ve seen before) is a technological wonder that will take untold amounts of money to build, cost untold amounts of money to power/operate, and will likely cost a premium to insure against power failure and liability — and, frankly, from the behavior I see on our roads today and even in the simplest of parking lots, probably couldn’t be figured out or handled by the average driver.

I recently visited The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas and their garage was pure genius — they had LEDs above each parking space (blue meant “available,” red meant “occupied”) you could see instantly looking down the structure where an available space was and drive accordingly. Now that is something I’d like to see in this plan.

Putting a parking lot under the Plaza de Panama itself would be a nightmare of construction, and there would be no option for the introduction of “natural” ventilation or lighting. With the east side of the proposed lot behind the Organ Pavilion being completely open to sunlight and air, the need for artificial lighting and venting would be greatly reduced.

I have zero affiliation with Irwin Jacobs, or anyone else behind this plan. As I’ve stated, I was against it from the start, and I attended the walk-through over the weekend intending to discover details that would solidify my distrust and position against it. When I had the details laid out before me, with the opportunity to ask hard questions and have them answered to my satisfaction, I am now in favor of it.

Scott Kovacik lives in University Heights.


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