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San Diego is still digesting news of the collapse of the nonprofit Balboa Park Celebration Inc., which contracted with the city to plan a highly anticipated centennial event.

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The group promised a “spectacular year of festivities” to commemorate the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. The event was supposed to put San Diego on the world stage, drawing visitors from around the globe. Now residents are left wondering how such grand plans came to nothing after more than two years and an expenditure of $2.8 million.

Gerry Braun, the group’s media outreach coordinator, tried to explain the planning failure during a KPBS interview last week.

Braun said the community had not been responsive when asked to get involved in the celebration, and that groups within the park were too concerned with their own priorities to get on board for the larger event.

Braun also said event planning was inhibited by a lack of open space in the center of the park. Had a previously proposed plan to construct an off-ramp from the Cabrillo Bridge and build a parking garage behind the Organ Pavilion been approved, he said, it would have opened up the California and Panama Plazas, and created space on the parking garage roof.

Braun also pointed a finger of blame at former Mayor Bob Filner and the tight-fisted corporations that did not donate to the celebration.

Really? Is this the official account of why the group failed to produce a plan? Does one voice get to frame the story and assign blame? I hope not.

First and foremost, Balboa Park’s worthy institutions and volunteers do not deserve to be scapegoated. Neither should the public be accused of failure to engage in a planning process that changed direction with little public explanation, and generally appeared opaque and insular.

San Diego deserves a more nuanced and instructive explanation of what went wrong in this important civic endeavor — an inquiry that thoughtfully identifies the problems and acknowledges the Balboa Park Celebration volunteers who gave freely of their time to produce a plan in the face of genuine political and financial obstacles.

Nancy Carol Carter researches and writes on California horticultural history, with a current focus on the history of Balboa Park and the work of Kate O. Sessions. She is a long-time Balboa Park volunteer. Carter’s commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.

Catherine Green

Catherine Green was formerly the deputy editor at Voice of San Diego. She handled daily operations while helping to plan new long-term projects.

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