4:32 a.m., May 22
Save Our Heritage Organisation urges Gloria not to pursue Municipal Code change
Numerous other hurdles could arise in fight over Plaza de Panama revamp plan, group says
Tensions over plans to remove parking and vehicle traffic from Balboa Park’s Plaza de Panama have once again been reignited, as local preservationist group Save Our Heritage Organisation reacts to a suggestion from San Diego City Council president Todd Gloria that the city’s Municipal Code could potentially be altered to remove legal impediments to a plan backed by local philanthropist and Qualcomm founder Irwin Jacobs to build a new bridge around the plaza leading to a paid parking facility.
That plan was backed by the council but shot down by Superior Court Judge Timothy Taylor, who found that the city’s judgment that unless the historical landmark Plaza was significantly altered that it would have “no reasonable beneficial use” to be “so lacking in evidentiary support as to render it unreasonable.”
In a February 22 memo, Gloria’s office says that City Attorney Jan Goldsmith has “suggested that we could amend the Municipal Code identified by the judge, which would allow the Plaza de Panama project to proceed.”
A release from Save Our Heritage Organisation suggests, however, that addressing this primary concern only opens the door to more challenges.
For example, the Code requires that the project not adversely impact land use plans. The project EIR concedes, and the City Council agreed, that the project has significant impacts due to inconsistencies with the City's General Plan Urban Design Element, Historic Preservation Element, and Recreation Element. In relevant part, the General Plan requires that "all City-owned designated historical resources" be "maintained consistent with" the Secretary of the Interior's Standards - the federal rules governing alteration of important historic properties. The City and the project EIR both concede that the Plaza de Panama project does not follow mandatory Secretary's Standards 2 and 9. The project is also undeniably inconsistent with the Balboa Park Master Plan and Central Mesa Precise Plan. Those two plans direct removal of parking from the Plaza de Panama without a bypass bridge. Judge Taylor's ruling did not address the Code's mandate against adverse impacts on land use plans. Since the project permit required by the Municipal Code must now be set aside because the City "abused its discretion," the judge ruled that it was "not necessary" at this point to address the other Code violations alleged by SOHO. Courts generally rule on the narrowest possible ground to resolve a case. But these additional blatant violations also prevent the project's reapproval.
SOHO further notes that Municipal Code violations are not the only legal impediment to the Plaza de Panama project, as there is a pending case by San Diegans for Open Governments challenging the legality of $17.4 million in bonds issued by the City to raise money to pay for the new parking structure proposed in the park.
The group maintains that it is committed to the ultimate goal of eliminating vehicle traffic from the Plaza, and insists that means other than those suggested by the Jacobs committee remain viable.
“A simple, fast, and light touch on the park is eminently do-able, ensuring that the Plaza could be fully available for Centennial celebrations, just as it has been for many events in the past," Save Our Heritage Organisation executive director Bruce Coons says. “The Plaza could be resurfaced in a day if the city chose to do it, reclaiming the parking area for pedestrian use and providing a managed traffic solution for the bridge traffic.”
Gloria’s office concludes in “ask[ing] all San Diegans to respect the passion of all sides and remember that we all want what is best for our City’s crown jewel.”