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Analysis: After two years of public debate, the City Council approved a $45 million plan this week to renovate Balboa Park’s central plaza.
Hours before the vote, Coons rallied opponents outside City Hall and appeared on several local TV stations in yet another effort to sway public opinion behind him. He mainly argues the plan would destroy the park’s historical integrity.
But in an interview with CBS8, Coons added another argument he and other opponents often cite. They claim the public has been shut out from deciding Balboa Park’s future, and its remaking will reflect the vision of only one man, Qualcomm co-founder Irwin Jacobs.
To buttress that idea, Coons argued Jacobs and other proponents have completely ignored the public. He told CBS8 (emphasis added):
It’s been a complete sham. This thing was fully baked two years ago. It was put on the scene. We were told we were all going to have input into it. They’ve changed it not one bit.
We decided to Fact Check Coon’s assertion that the proposal hadn’t changed since Jacobs unveiled the concept alongside Mayor Jerry Sanders in 2010. It sounded like a bold description given the high-profile nature of the discussion, and it was used to bolster a common refrain that proponents have been subverting the democratic process.
Proponents have also touted their public outreach. In reports to city officials, they’ve catalogued 31 meetings with community groups, 16 meetings with business and tourism organizations and dozens more with government officials, Balboa Park groups and others. They organized walking tours and put up information booths at community events like December Nights.
Through his statement, Coons essentially claimed that all of this discussion had been meaningless, that the plan before the City Council earlier this week had no grain of public insight. Not one!
But when contacted about the statement Wednesday, Coons immediately shifted away from that message. He acknowledged that proponents had indeed made changes in response to public input over the past two years. They just hadn’t been all the big changes he wanted.
“I will concede that ‘no changes of any substance’ would have probably been a better thing to say but it was in a string of comments made with a lot of reporters firing questions,” Coons wrote in an email. “I believe your readers will deem it essentially correct.”
Coons has long opposed the Balboa Park plan because it would build a new bridge, a new road and an underground parking garage. These three pieces formed the biggest proposals in Jacobs’ original plan and they were still part of the plan before the City Council this week.
But some aspects of Jacobs’ plan have actually changed in response to public input. Planners reported to the city that they had widened streets to allow more room for cyclists, widened sidewalks to better accommodate the disabled and shifted traffic circulation to a two-way system.
In total, they reported making more than 60 changes to the plan’s design based on public input. And even if all of these changes didn’t happen, one man’s story backs up more response than Coons described.
Early in our conversation about this Fact Check, Coons suggested I talk with Mike Singleton, a member of a volunteer committee that advises the city on Balboa Park issues. Singleton said he had suggested planners relocate a new a bathroom because it would’ve obscured views of the park.
“Just looked at the latest site plan and I no longer see the building in the way,” Singleton wrote in an email. “So it does look like this suggestion took.”
Coons cited a very precise description during the interview with CBS8. He said no changes had been made to the plan over the past two years. We found Coons didn’t accurately reflect how designers have responded to public input. His statement was False.
Coons did not disagree with our findings but did dispute our rating. He said False was too harsh because none of the changes have significantly changed the nature of the plan. The big three pieces are still all there.
We ultimately landed on False because none of the surrounding context indicated that specific meaning. Coons offered CBS8 viewers an absolute that just didn’t reflect reality. The authors didn’t change the big things Coons wanted, but they did change some of the things that other people wanted.
But what do you think? Please express your thoughts in the comments section of this blog post. Explain your reasoning.
Disclosure: Irwin Jacobs is a major supporter of Voice of San Diego.
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