San Diego Planning Commission endorsed Balboa Park proposal

SAN DIEGO (CNS) – A controversial plan to ban vehicles from the center
of Balboa Park was unanimously endorsed today by the city of San Diego's
Planning Commission.

Qualcomm co-founder Irwin Jacobs funded development of the $45 million
plan, which envisions a 405-foot-long bypass bridge to take traffic away from
the Plaza de Panama and Plaza de California, along with construction of an
underground 822-space parking garage near the Spreckels Organ Pavilion.

With the 7-0 vote, the commission recommended the project's passage to
the City Council, which will make the final decision next month.

The basic idea of getting rid of cars from the center of the park to
make it more pedestrian-friendly is almost universally accepted but, for
opponents who overflowed the Council Chamber in the City Administration
Building, the devil is in the details, especially when it comes to what would
be called the Centennial Bridge.

Leaders of the group Save Our Heritage Organisation say the new
structure would destroy the beauty of the west side of the park and traffic
changes would disrupt the peaceful atmosphere of the Alcazar Gardens. Others
question plans to charge for parking in the new structure, which they worry
could become a financial liability for the city.

Bruce Coons, the head of SOHO, called the Plaza de Panama plan
“elective surgery” with bad trade-offs.

Bill Lewis, an architect who designed a competing proposal, said the
parking garage should be under the plazas so that patrons will be close to
museums on the prado, some of which would struggle if parking was far away.

“We think there's a better way of doing it — we think there is a more
cost-effective way of doing it,” Lewis said.

Jacobs said a “tremendous amount of work” has gone into development of
the proposal and study of nearly two dozen alternatives over the past two
years. Most of the other plans weren't feasible or failed to meet project
goals, he said.

“The Plaza de Panama project was carefully designed to allow for the
reclamation of the park, while at the same time maintaining convenient public
access,” Jacobs said.

“The Centennial Bridge will be a new structure in Balboa Park and thus
has historic impact, but the benefits the project will realize — beautiful
open plazas activated with people, increased parking and access, and
dramatically reduced conflicts between cars and people — justify the addition
of this bridge,” Jacobs said.

He said his plan gives the best balance of any of the proposals and it
is supported by park institutions and the tourism industry.

“Every plan for Balboa Park in the last 50 years has had a goal of
returning the park to the people — and nothing has been done,” Jacobs said.
“We now have a chance to accomplish this goal.”

Commission Chairman Eric Naslund noted the mix of vehicles and
pedestrians in the plazas and said it was “unbelievably to me how it even got
that way.”

He said he would reluctantly accept the bypass bridge in order to take
advantage of the project's benefits.

Supporters of the plan hope to have the changes to the park implemented
in time for the 100-year anniversary of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition.

Categories: KUSI