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As I’ve been reporting our series looking back at historical controversies and land use changes in Balboa Park, I’ve noticed a couple of things: There’s no one thing that can describe why people love it.

A park that big contains lots of favorite places, and in a city and county as large as San Diego, there are lots of people to favorite them.

There are also lots of needs and potential projects in the park — fixes to the utilities, maintenance for buildings, new reconstructions of historic buildings that have gone away.

But I want to know: What’s your favorite place in the park? If you could pick one piece of the park to overhaul, fix or renovate, what would it be? It can be a previously identified project that hasn’t been done, or a pet project you’ve always hoped would be considered. And this part’s even harder: How much would that cost and how would you pay for it?

To get us started, I sent a quick survey to a few people who’ve been involved in different stages of the park’s life — as well as a few who may have power to influence it in the future. I wanted to know their favorite place and time in the park. The park’s top need. And how they’d pay to fix it.

Here are their responses, edited for length. Please add yours below in our comments.


Vicki Estrada, author of the 1989 Master Plan for Balboa Park, and other subsequent plans, landscape architect for current Plaza de Panama plan:

What is your favorite place/time in Balboa Park?

Walking down the East Prado on a spring day watching the people and the street performers.

What project would you pick next?

Obviously, getting rid of the parking in the Plaza de Panama. Assuming that is a given, eliminating the cars in the Palisades parking lot and converting it back to a plaza as shown in the (1992 Central Mesa) Precise Plan.

How much would that cost and how would you pay for it?

I would estimate that that would cost $8 million to $12 million depending on the level of improvements. Who would pay for it? Hopefully we can get some sort of urban grant for a number of sources and combine it with bond money and possible local benefactors.


Carl DeMaio, city councilman, mayoral candidate:

What is your favorite place/time in Balboa Park?

My favorite experience in Balboa Park is December Nights. I enjoy seeing such large numbers of San Diegans enjoying the park during that time, some of whom wouldn’t experience the park otherwise. It’s a great reminder of how special Balboa Park is.

What project would you pick next?

I’m a supporter of the Friends of Balboa Park’s proposal to make the park ‘water-wise’ over the next decade. With the 2015 Centennial Exposition just around the corner, making Balboa Park a national model of sustainability and water conservation is an exciting proposal. Another goal of mine will be to catch up on the park’s millions in deferred maintenance.

How much would that cost and how would you pay for it?

I support public-private partnerships and innovative new ways to provide city services. We should look at public-private partnerships as a possible way to improve the park’s facilities and provide ongoing maintenance, particularly in Balboa Park.

Note: Bob Filner, also running for mayor, did not respond by our deadline.


Kim Duclo, park ranger:

What is your favorite place/time in Balboa Park?

The park at first light in the morning or late at night.

What project would you pick next?

The simplest thing we could do in this park, I think the park should have a curfew from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. That would help with the nefarious and unseemly behavior that goes on here on a constant basis. That little window would make it difficult to sleep here all night.

How much would that cost and how would you pay for it?

I think it should be cost-neutral. It gives the police another tool.


Betty Peabody, longtime park volunteer:

What is your favorite place/time in Balboa Park?

Oh! I’d have to think about that. I’m always working in the park. I rarely get to an exhibit. Forty-three years as a volunteer.

But we do have a bench, my husband and I, over by the Botanical Building. I think maybe that’s one of the favorite places. It can be quiet; you can watch the children playing in the fountain. At certain times of the day, the week, other times it’s very quiet and peaceful. You can catch your breath for a few minutes.

What project would you pick next?

Reclaiming the landfill. It’s such a waste. It’s really such a tragedy that it was used in that manner. People weren’t thinking. It wasn’t a thought-out plan looking into the future. … We need more space for things like concerts. Things that happen on the west side now.

Do you have an idea of how you would you pay for it?

No, I don’t. (A 2008 estimate pegged the cost at $86.7 million.)


Bruce Coons, director of Save Our Heritage Organisation, which operates the historic Marston House on park grounds:

What is your favorite place/time in Balboa Park?

Alcazar Gardens. I think it’s the most beautiful garden there. But it’s in conjunction with the California Quadrangle and the (Cabrillo) bridge. It’s that set, with the garden that softens it, and the tile. I love those tiles. I think that’s the prettiest part of Balboa Park.

Other than the Marston House, of course.

What project would you pick next?

The deferred maintenance in the historic district, which includes new utilities and repairing all the buildings. Even the gatehouses at the Cabrillo Bridge are in horrible shape. And second, it’s really right up there, to finish the reconstructions.

How much would that cost and how would you pay for it?

We were hoping we would all get behind (throwing) a new expo, once again centering on the Pacific Rim, and trade with China and Japan, but also green technologies. Over on the landfill, we’d have the new temporary buildings. … And for the older section to have the biggest collection of blockbuster exhibits ever in one place in the world. That, we were hoping, would provide the money not only to build it up for the expo, but also an endowment to finish the rest of the deferred maintenance.


Mike Kelly, president, Committee of One Hundred, a group that works to preserve the park’s existing original buildings:

What is your favorite place/time in Balboa Park?

My favorite place/time (allowing for time travel) would be at the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. With all the photos available, I feel like I’ve already strolled the Plazas, El Prado, gardens, and the Isthmus, driven the electriquettes. I’d really like to get inside the buildings to see all the exhibits, especially the California Building with its Maya and Science of Man exhibits. The Museum of Man still has several 1915 pieces on display and will have more for 2015, so I’ll actually get to experience that, albeit 100 years later.

What project would you pick next?

The Science and Education Building is the building one I’d like to see resurrected first. It was right next door to the California Building, where many Smithsonian exhibits were on display in 1915.

How much would that cost and how would you pay for it?

It’s estimated to cost $30 million to reconstruct with two stories and at least one basement level. It would require additional funds to build it out to suit the occupants, which I would expect to include the Museum of Art.


Irwin Jacobs, philanthropist spearheading the Plaza de Panama project:

What is your favorite place/time in Balboa Park?

Walking slowly down East El Prado on a sunny day watching so many families enjoying themselves while interacting with a diverse variety of performers.

What project would you pick next?

Following successful completion of the Plaza de Panama project and the centennial celebration, a wonderful next step would be expansion of the San Diego Museum of Art on the northwest corner of the Plaza with the exterior replicating the original Science and Education Building, cost and timing to be determined.


Darlene Gould Davies, longtime park volunteer and former Balboa Park Committee chairwoman:

What is your favorite place/time in Balboa Park?

When I sit in the front row aisle seat in the historic Casa del Prado at a San Diego Junior Theatre production, whether it is The Secret Garden or Willy Wonka, layers of life complication and absurd minutia fall away. Moms and dads, as well as grandparents, are cheering sections for their family cast members and for other performers, too. There is a generosity of spirit that frees young people of rigid constraints that choke exploration. I guess the honesty appeals to me.

What project would you pick next?

Provide free admission to all Balboa Park programs and institutions for young people under the age of 18. Some U.S. museums suggest donations rather than admission fees, and the Smithsonian Institution museums are free. In Balboa Park, there are occasional special event fee waivers, Free Tuesday programs and December Nights. More needs to be done on behalf of youth. I’m suggesting we place our children ahead of other priorities by consistently encouraging their presence in Balboa Park.

How much would that cost and how would you pay for it?

Student tickets are a little lower than regular admission. Even so, institutions would expect to offset lost ticket income, possibly through a combination of public funding and institutional budget reallocation. That reallocation should be determined separately by each entity. Specific endowments would further strengthen the policy. Private donors and time-limited grants now periodically provide tickets, but a firm commitment to free youth admission would require a consistent waiver of fees, funded by a reliable money stream.


Now it’s your turn. What’s your favorite place in the park? What project would you prioritize next? And how would you pay for it?

I’m still narrowing my choice for favorite spot, but I can’t wait to read yours. Please leave us your ideas below.

Photos of Jacobs, Coons, Estrada and DeMaio by Sam Hodgson. Photo of Duclo by Bob Lang. Photo of Davies by Maren Dougherty

Disclosure: Irwin Jacobs is a major supporter of Voice of San Diego.

I’m Kelly Bennett, reporter for Voice of San Diego. You can reach me directly at kelly.bennett@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0531.

And follow Behind the Scene on Facebook.

Kelly Bennett

Kelly Bennett is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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