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Analysis: Last week, the City Council approved a $45 million plan to remodel Balboa Park. Most of the project is planned to be funded by philanthropy, but the city isn’t completely off the hook.
A quick refresher: The city plans to borrow $16.5 million to build a new parking garage and charge drivers between $5 and $20 for parking. Then, if all goes as planned over the next three decades, the money collected through parking fees will pay off the city’s construction debt.
And what happens if all doesn’t go as planned? Well, that was among the biggest concerns raised before and after the City Council vote.
If few people use the new garage, the city won’t raise enough to cover its debt payments. Then, it might have to tap its day-to-day operating budget, which funds core services like police and libraries.
The plan’s authors argue the risk is minimal. They commissioned two studies examining how many people will likely use the 797-space garage, and both projected the city would collect more than enough fees to make its debt payments.
During an interview with KPBS last week, Gloria also cited the studies to assure listeners that the city’s financial risk would be low. He called the garage’s projected usage a very conservative estimate.
“The figures actually presume that every freed space in the park is occupied before people will start to choose to park in the garage,” Gloria said.
His point: The projections are really conservative because they assume no one will use the parking garage, located in the heart of the park, until every last space in Balboa Park is taken up.
We decided to Fact Check Gloria’s description of the studies since he cited them to bolster his position. Gloria voted for the Balboa Park plan and was defending that decision on KPBS.
Our review of the two studies found Gloria overstated the conservativeness of their scope. Neither assumed every parking lot in Balboa Park would be full before drivers use the new garage. Instead, they assumed most lots would be full.
To calculate their projections, the studies examined different scenarios involving the parking lots closest to Balboa Park’s central plaza. They limited the scope to this group, arguing that drivers wouldn’t likely walk to the plaza from lots in the park that are farther away.
Both of the studies excluded the San Diego Zoo’s parking lot, which is north of the plaza, and a parking lot at Inspiration Point, which is southeast of the plaza across Park Boulevard. Together, the two lots provide about twice as many parking spaces as all the lots included in the study.
The two studies also handled a third, 509-space parking lot near the plaza differently. One study excluded it altogether. The other assumed it would be 90 percent full before drivers would go to the garage.
Each study called its projection conservative, but neither was as conservative as Gloria described in the KPBS interview. They didn’t assume every lot would be full before drivers go to the garage.
For that reason, we’ve rated Gloria’s statement False.
Katie Keach, a spokeswoman for Gloria, didn’t dispute our findings but argued the councilman’s broader point was still sound. She said the risk to the city’s operating budget will be minimal and the studies back up that position.
Still, Keach provided a few words of appreciation in response to our Fact Check. In an email, she wrote: “Thanks for keeping out feet to the fire.”
Not everyone on the council shared Gloria’s optimism regarding the parking projections. Councilman David Alvarez examined the same projections, argued they wouldn’t fully materialize and predicted the city’s budget would be left on the hook to make up the debt payments.
Though he disagreed about the parking projections, Alvarez joined Gloria in approving the plan.
Disclosure: The plan’s author, Irwin Jacobs, is a major supporter of Voice of San Diego.
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