A Superior Court judge struck down a years-in-the-making plan to remake Balboa Park’s western entrance Monday. Judge Timothy Taylor upheld his earlier tentative ruling that the city broke its own law in approving the project.

After hearing 90 minutes of arguments from the city, a group of philanthropists who proposed the plan and an opposing historic preservation group on Friday, Taylor opined that the city had abused its discretion to approve the project, because the land in question already has a “reasonable beneficial use” — even if it is a parking lot — without the Plaza de Panama project. In approving the project last July, the City Council had to make a finding to the opposite.

Taylor responded to City Attorney Jan Goldsmith’s “animated” efforts on Friday to persuade the court to be less rigid in its interpretation of city code:

… [the city] urged this court, in construing the phrase “there is no reasonable beneficial use of a property,” to apply a “flexible” approach …. The court remains unpersuaded. …

This does not mean, however, that the court interprets the key provision of the Municipal Code in a “rigid” or wooden fashion. But the “flexible” approach advocated by the City sounded to the court a lot like a suggestion that the court can find that statute can mean whatever the City wants it to mean if the court agrees (as it does here) with the City’s ultimate conclusion. The law would be rendered hollow indeed if this were the rule.

The judge said the preservation group, Save Our Heritage Organisation (SOHO), is entitled to an order that the city rescind the permits to build the Plaza de Panama project.

You can read the final ruling here.

It’s not clear what will happen to plans to clear cars from the Plaza de Panama in time for the 2015 celebration of a 1915-1916 exposition that made Balboa Park what we know it as today. Even the opponents, SOHO, desire to rid the plaza of parking, if not traffic. SOHO’s biggest contention with the project was its plan to append a new bridge to the end of the historic Cabrillo Bridge.

The judge reiterated his earlier sentiment that he came to his decision reluctantly:

Weighing heavily on the court is the very real possibility that this decision will cause [the Plaza de Panama Committee] to abandon its efforts to raise money for a long-desired project in Balboa Park, and at a minimum render very difficult a centennial celebration along the lines hoped for by so many.

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

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Disclosure: Voice of San Diego members and supporters may be mentioned or have a stake in the stories we cover. For a complete list of our contributors, click here.

Kelly Bennett

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

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