As the time is short between now and the July 9 date when the City Council will vote on whether to accept the Jacobs/CIVITAS plan for Balboa Park, it is important for proponents of the Jacobs plan to express their final thoughts after so many months of distortions by opponents of the plan. Save Our Heritage Organisation, the leading advocate for rejecting the Jacobs plan, has been especially duplicitous. After getting their supporters to agree that any plan is superior to the Jacobs’ plan, the leadership has finally coalesced around a plan drawn up by retired architect William S. Lewis. After insisting that the Memorandum of Understanding could not take the place of an Environmental Impact Report and getting a judge to rule in their favor, SOHO now claims an EIR for the Lewis plan is unnecessary. After announcing the historical inadequacies of the Jacobs plan as they applied to a bypass ramp off Cabrillo Bridge and getting the National Park Service to accept their opinion, it now claims that similar Lewis plan changes to the structure of Cabrillo Bridge on north and south sides are so insignificant they need not be reviewed by historic preservation boards.
After claiming that a road turning right at the southwest corner of the Plaza de Panama would solve the Balboa Park traffic problem, it now claims north and south — or west — perimeter roads invading the grounds occupied by The Old Globe Theater, the San Diego Zoo, the San Diego Museum of Art, the Botanical Building and exiting on Park Boulevard by way of a road south of Spanish Village would allow for greater access to these attractions and for three off-road ramps connecting to an underground parking garage in the Plaza de Panama, and, for a wide-sweeping south road, which would run under an arch of Cabrillo Bridge, through the Alcazar Garden parking lot and Palm Canyon and would come out on Pan-American West Road in the vicinity of the House of Pacific Relation. These roads — so easy to draw on paper — would be less destructive of land than the shorter Centennial Road, proposed by Jacobs, close to but not visible from the Plaza de Panama mall and would come out at the north side of the Spreckels Organ Pavilion parking lot. An underground garage at this location would provide both incoming and outgoing traffic with 797 parking spaces on three levels. The Lewis plan calls for 800 spaces underneath the Plaza de Panama on an unnamed number of levels, which, unlike the Organ Pavilion garage, would require artificial ventilation and daytime illumination with shafts and vents visible on the surface of the Plaza de Panama.
When first announced the Lewis plan called for access to the central mesa from a Quince Street off-ramp. It is not clear if this plan has been abandoned or if it is still in force. The Lewis plans calls for the construction of several retaining walls some of which would be visible from the historically-designated Cabrillo Freeway and would necessitate the removal of much planting that give this section of the Southern California highway system its unique character.
The Jacobs plan has been reviewed for several months by private and public civic organizations. Its modifications and additions to Balboa Park are to be completed in time for the 100-year anniversary of the Panama-California Exposition on January 1, 2015. The underground parking structure would add about 260 new parking spaces to Balboa Park which would make up for the loss of 70 spaces that now used in the Plaza de Panama. In addition to gaining about 2.2 acres of open parkland on top of the underground garage, the city would gain 2.3 acres on the Plaza de Panama which would be landscaped in a manner similar to its appearance at the 1915-1916 and 1935-1936 expositions. The Plaza de Panama and the Plaza de California to the west and the Plaza de Panama mall to the south would then become pedestrian spaces where automobiles would intrude only in the case of emergency. In all 6.3 new pedestrian-only spaces would be added to Balboa Park.
It has been said that many people in San Diego would object to the payment of a fee for parking in Balboa Park and that the underground garage would not generate enough money to pay for its construction and operation. The fact that free parking would still be offered in adjacent above surface parking lots is also seen as a deterrent to construction of an underground parking garage. This may or may not be the case, but after the 1915 centennial the operation and maintenance of the garage would be in the hands of the Balboa Park Conservancy, which is charged with finding money to mitigate the obsolescence of Balboa Park facilities. While Balboa Park would be in the lead in putting underground garages on its grounds, it would not be the first as underground garages in Boston Common, Post Office Square in Boston, Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, and Millennium Park in Chicago have become proven successes financially and in providing people with hitherto un-guessed at pleasures in open-air natural and artificial environments.
As the popular December Nights and Earth Day celebrations have shown, the people of San Diego will flock to Balboa Park when automobile traffic is stopped at the entrance of El Prado. Motorists will find their own ways of getting to the park when there is no longer sufficient space or time to park their cars within the park’s borders. Not every day will be December Nights or Earth Day, but, as with the expositions of 1915-1916 and 1935-1936, it is hoped that the liberated 6.3 acre open spaces on the central mesa will never be bereft of visitors. Balboa Park has been hailed by the Project for Public Spaces as one of the greatest parks not only in the United States but throughout the entire world. It can surpass this accolade if the thoughtful plans now being partially funded by Dr. Irwin Jacobs and by other volunteer contributors throughout the San Diego region are implemented.
Richard W Amero lives in Chula Vista.
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