Plaza de Panama is considered the heart of Balboa Park.

Over the years, the swath of land sandwiched between the San Diego Museum of Art and the Spreckels Organ Pavilion has toggled between a parking lot and a pedestrian plaza, and folks have long argued over whether  should be allowed there.

Last week, Mayor Kevin Faulconer revived the controversial plan to get cars out of the Plaza de Panama for good by building a bypass bridge and parking garage. He also mentioned a November ballot measure that he suggested would, in part, increase the pot of money to fix some of the Balboa Park’s infrastructure problems.

In this week’s Culture Report, I asked folks what they thought of the city’s plans for the park.

Here’s what some of you had to say. (Responses have been edited for clarity and style.)


I favor eliminating all cars from the historic center of the park (the Plaza de Panama) and having the opportunity to drive around those buildings to access a parking structure where it is a reasonable walk to the events and activities in the park. All of this is accomplished by the City Council-approved (with only one negative vote) and court-vetted plan.
— Peter Ellsworth, Point Loma 

One way to have fewer cars in the park is to have more people ride there on their bikes. Right now, a lack of security for bikes causes many not to risk taking their bikes there to possibly be stolen.  Recently, I went by bike with a group of 10 cyclists to tour the California Tower. There was no safe place to park bikes. A security guard was patrolling outside but he refused to watch the bikes. The museum had no place inside to put the bikes. One member of our group had to stay outside to watch the bikes and miss the tour, forfeiting the $20 she had had to prepay for her ticket in order to get a reservation. Providing secure bike parking isn’t that pricey compared to the millions of dollars the city is talking about spending on the park redo. It just needs to be made a priority by somebody.
— Virginia Hyde, Mission Hills

First off, parking should be free at the park. Need spaces? Increase easy public transportation. Young families are being priced out of enjoying this city. As usual, I see the government, on every level, using a piecemeal approach. If the city can raise millions of dollars, then the buildings in Balboa Park need that money for repairs. How beautiful will the new parking structure look if one of the buildings needs to be closed because it is unsafe? First repair the existing buildings, then discuss other upgrades.
— Kathi Herter, Cortez Hill

I, a frequent visitor to Balboa Park, am glad to see the plan of a bridge bypass and the creation of an underground parking garage behind the organ pavilion come back to life. I think the majority of people using the park will enthusiastically endorse the plan, especially if it is largely privately funded. I usually park behind the organ pavilion now and, if it is full I park in the lot nearer Park Boulevard, but parking there is a challenging walk for 70-year-olds. I enjoy visiting the museums, attending Old Globe productions and walking The Prado. I have no interest in parking offsite and waiting for a trolley, especially since the new attractive underground garage is so much more convenient and desirable. I don’t object to a fee to help pay for the garage and often wonder why the zoo and the public lots at the beaches don’t charge.
— Jim Ziegler, University Heights

Keeping cars out of the heart of Balboa Park is a good idea, but a pay-parking garage is not the solution. It divides the haves from the have-nots. It should be a free parking area for the handicapped. There are too few parking spots for people who are handicapped.
— Paul E. Girard, Del Cerro

Keeping cars out of the center of the park is a worthwhile goal; however, the project as proposed is a step backward. Adding a multistory parking garage is wanted only by the institutions that want close parking for the elite patrons. As proposed, the parking garage will have an opening to the east only, which begs the issue of how to get engine pollution out of the garage. There will be no natural air flow to keep it clean, therefore it must have expensive, noisy and costly air ventilators to keep air moving. Think about the roof-top park space polluted by the exhaust. Plus, no matter how careful a contractor would be, digging a hole behind the Spreckels Organ Pavilion will create vibrations in the earth, dust and noise. For the society that maintains the organ, dust and vibration have got to be a concern and expensive to maintain if control valves or air chambers become out of alignment. Any construction as proposed will basically bring to a close the free Sunday concerts for at least a year, as well as most of the rental income during the year on special events due to noise and construction safety restrictions. For these and other reasons, moving forward with the plan would be a bad decision and appears to be only about the money and prestige instead of sound planning. I encourage city leaders to let the public know all the details of the plan: what’s gained and lost and the true costs and expenses compared to options previously outlined by many opponents of the plan. And finally, let the people of San Diego County – not just the city – have a vote.
Mike Richards, Lemon Grove

The proposed design will actually encourage driving across Cabrillo Bridge and through Balboa Park. Heading east from Cabrillo Bridge, cars will enter a valet parking area before entering a fenced descending roadway separating the International Cottages from The Spreckels Organ Pavilion. Construction of the paid parking garage requires removal of over 10,000 large truckloads of earth immediately adjacent to the Spreckels Organ. Additional parking at the garage and the throughway will add to idling cars and Presidents Way traffic. The earth will be dumped on the Arizona Landfill site, doing absolutely nothing to remove the toxic debris there. In short, the plan does absolutely nothing toward the $500 million of identified problems from the 2008 Legler-Benbough Report on Balboa Park while it adds additional traffic at the park’s detriment.
Kevin Swanson, Paradise Hills

If I were to look at a satellite image of Balboa Park and center over the middle between the majority of the park’s museums, I would be right behind the Organ Pavilion. So if we are trying to take parking out of the center of Balboa Park, why is the parking garage going right there? This plan is not taking parking out of the center of the park, it is putting increased parking in the center. Let’s not even discuss the impact on the city’s Climate Action Plan. The project is wrong on so many levels. Let’s go for a new plan.
— Char-Lou Benedict, Bankers Hill

Kinsee Morlan was formerly the Engagement Editor at Voice of San Diego and author of the Culture Report. She also managed VOSD’s podcasts and covered...

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