Mock-up aerial view of project site
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After years of delays that included criticism from many sources, lawsuits, and the withdrawal and later reinstatement of millions of dollars' worth of private funding, San Diego's city council on Monday (November 14) approved up to $50 million in public funding for a new subterranean parking garage and access bridge in Balboa Park.

The proposed garage will result in a net gain of approximately 267 parking spaces and add several acres of grass lawns on the structure's roof.

As projected, the measure met widespread support from the lame-duck council, with council president Sherri Lightner casting the lone dissenting vote in an 8-1 decision.

"Like never before, the community has gotten behind a new grand vision for the park," mayor Kevin Faulconer told the council before the issue was presented. Faulconer played a key role in reviving the project, bringing political supporter and mega-donor Irwin Jacobs back to the table.

Of the 180 residents who showed up to make their final pleas, opinion was split down the middle, with 90 speakers both in favor of and opposed to the project.

Opponents repeated arguments that a bypass bridge would damage the historic integrity of the existing Cabrillo Bridge and that monies spent on the park would be better directed toward crumbling infrastructure.

"We're talking about $80 million for 267 spaces, or about $300,000 a space. San Diego's average is around $30,000, where nationwide it's closer to $15,000. It's a pretty ridiculous amount of money," opined Bruce Coons with Save Our Heritage Organisation, whose group submitted 7000 petition signatures in opposition to the plan. "We don't think the project meets any of its stated goals."

At $79 million, cost projections for the plan have more than doubled since 2012, with most increases coming from the bridge and garage construction. The city will pick up most of the tab. San Diego now expects to finance $49 million of the project, with another $30 million to be raised through donations.

Once completed, it's projected that revenue from the garage, ranging from $2 to $3/hour to $12/day, will cover the cost of its upkeep. But other costs — including an estimated $366,000 annually to maintain the rooftop park, $160,000 per year for two years to provide alternate parking and traffic rerouting while construction is ongoing, and as-yet undetermined costs associated with park trams and increased security — will tap in to the city's general fund budget. The general fund would also take a hit if garage revenues don't align with initial estimates, a concern opponents have played up by noting free parking will remain available in other areas of the park.

With the financing approved, the city hopes to break ground in about one year and open the garage to its first paying customers in the winter of 2019.

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MichaelValentine Nov. 15, 2016 @ 10:16 a.m.

Balboa Park would have been better off if they just use the 80 million dollars to repair and maintain the buildings and grounds we have now.


jelula Nov. 21, 2016 @ 9:49 a.m.

Agreed except that there isn't $80 million going into the project which could be used for the park. $49 million will be borrowed through revenue bonds for building the garage. There is $10 million cash which could have been used for repair & maintenance but Council agreed to give it to the Plaza de Panama Committee so they still only need to raise $30 million - and the Plaza de Panama Committee will be assisted through sale of naming rights which Council also has given to the Committee (Jacobs' committee).


JustWondering Nov. 15, 2016 @ 11:34 a.m.

Another Billionaire's wet dream subsidized by taxpaying citizens of San Diego. Doesn't matter if the last name is Spanos or Jacobs, it really about two things. A money stream for politicians who have their sites on higher office. And, getting others to pay for their ideas or monuments to themselves.

Both Jacobs and Spanos are billionaires and could easily pay for this boondoggle. But I suspect you don't get to stay a billionaire by paying for boondoggles. No, you get others to do it for while you're laughing all the way to the bank. At $300,000 a parking space, at they at least striped in gold leaf?


dwbat Nov. 15, 2016 @ 1:24 p.m.

...have their sights (NOT "sites") on higher office. ;-)


AlexClarke Nov. 16, 2016 @ 6:43 a.m.

Maybe we should have our sites on them.


Ponzi Nov. 15, 2016 @ 3:48 p.m.

I hope there are lawsuits filed over this.

It's only going to benefit Ace Parking, who no doubt, will be awarded the service of collecting parking fees and towing cars. The developers will also gain from this work.

It won't stop there. This is the camels nose under the tent. The parking fee will spread throughout the park and certainly to the zoo parking lot. The zoo will claim that people who are not paying to visit the zoo are parking in their lot.

So it won't be long before there are ugly meters, fee collecting machines and paid parking at the zoo.

If they want to close the traffic down, fine. But they can add trams to pick up people instead of inviting even more cars.

If you thought there was crime where cars get broken into, this is a criminals dream... all those cars underground where they can hide and break into cars or assault people.


just_a_voter Nov. 17, 2016 @ 3 p.m.

It will also benefit whatever company gets the contract to build the bypass bridge, etc.


Flapper Nov. 17, 2016 @ 4:57 p.m.

This point should be repeated and repeated until hell freezes over or this project is killed.

Multiple contractors. Ace will get other contacts too, when the hidden consequences, like other pay parking pile up.


jelula Nov. 21, 2016 @ 9:54 a.m.

Furthermore, it's quite likely that parking fees won't be sufficient to pay off the garage revenue bond so taxpayers will be picking up the difference from the City's General Fund. We're already paying out of the General Fund for annual pension payments to make up what had been borrowed by the City, and for bonds on Petco Park, Qualcomm Stadium and the first Convention Center expansion.


Javajoe25 Nov. 15, 2016 @ 6:05 p.m.

Also, what they keep failing to mention is that all of the parking spaces they are removing are free, and all of the new spaces replacing them will cost, which equates to a charge to visit the park which from what I've read is in violation of the original intent. One of the main reasons Balboa Park is as popular as it is with locals is because it is a place they can bring their family and it doesn't cost a dime to visit. Jacobs and his ilk are obviously not concerned about this since money is no problem for them and they'll be using the valet service anyway. And who authorized all this valet parking in the park? Every space the valet crew takes is one less available for the public. This whole idea stinks. Is Jacobs not going to be content until he has proven he can force his will on the people of San Diego...and keep out the riff-raff while he's at it? Balboa Park is a jewel, and it's a jewel because it has been preserved, not mangled and modernized by billionaires looking for something to do.


clash84 Nov. 16, 2016 @ 4:23 p.m.

Agree. Also, many museums as well as the international houses in the park use volunteers. Many volunteers will probably decide to go elsewhere if they have to pay to park.


Flapper Nov. 17, 2016 @ 4:59 p.m.

And underpaid employees, many of whom have to come and go during the day. Distant parking = lost productivity.


dwbat Nov. 15, 2016 @ 7:19 p.m.

I wonder if there are going to be traffic issues at the right turn. Will there be stop signs? Will there be accidents? Will there be speeding?


Flapper Nov. 18, 2016 @ 1:42 p.m.

Stop sign or no stop sign, pedestrian traffic will have to be restricted to the north side. No looking from the south side anymore. Otherwise, the right turns will have to wait for pedestrians a large percentage of the time, making the traffic jam even worse. The bridge should be closed to all but deliveries. Despite some repair, we do not know much about the structural integrity of this old bridge.


dwbat Nov. 20, 2016 @ 6:59 p.m.

Actually we DO know about "the structural integrity of this old bridge." There was a major retrofit costing $millions; the bridge is in excellent condition now. The bridge originally was not intended for vehicular traffic.


swell Nov. 15, 2016 @ 7:23 p.m.

There are still a few hundred other parking spaces that are free. They can handle most of the weekday visitors. If you want to visit the Park at noon on a Sunday, you can expect crowds and soon you will have to pay or use the shuttle service.

Unlike the millions of San Diegans who have more important things to do, I visit the Park several times a week. The existing traffic jams and parking facilities are an eyesore and have no business in our otherwise serene environment. I would much prefer that they were all moved underground.

I understand that distant suburbanites would like to drive in and park in front of their chosen museum door, but that just isn't reasonable. You'll have to park at a distance and walk just as you do at a popular shopping mall. Until our population is reduced to half a million and foreigners stop visiting, the reality is that there will be throngs and we will have to pay sooner or later.

We have the potential for a world class Park here and asphalt is not an asset.


Ponzi Nov. 15, 2016 @ 9:30 p.m.

You don't get the point. This makes the park cost money to visit for those who don't plan out their morning or can't make it early. It opens the door to charging for parking everywhere in the park. In fact that is exactly what will happen within a matter of years. So I hope you enjoy your frequent weekly visits, until such time as your strolls over the grass covered parking lot pick $20 a day out of your pocket.

Let there be no doubt about it. This is an agreement between another egomaniac, Irwin Jacobs, and a city that needs every gimmick to inject more sources of money into their hemorrhaging pension fund. Once this travesty goes unhindered, the city and zoo will collect money everywhere. Money will be the focus of being able to access Balboa Park. It will become like what the jerks at the Port are doing to Seaport Village. The almighty dollar is what this is really about, not beautification.


dwbat Nov. 16, 2016 @ 10:07 a.m.

The city understands that gazing upon more dollars is indeed a "beautiful" sight. ;-)


JustWondering Nov. 16, 2016 @ 11:50 a.m.

Gotta agree with Ponzi on this one. Free spaces will be exploited leaving an under performing parking garage a new drain on the City's General Fund. So first the Council will divert funds from the park to subsidize the bonds. Then, since they got you to pass Measure 'J' they'll divert monies from Mission Bay Park AND further delay the DeAnza redevelopment. Then after they've been caught they tell us there is no other alternative but to charge for parking all over the park, saying it's only fair that everyone pays.

I'm usually not one for conspiracy theories, but this one is a long term masterful manipulation.


jelula Nov. 21, 2016 @ 10:03 a.m.

While I understand your mistrust of Measure 'J', but fears of the Mission Bay revenue money being taken for uses other than those intended by the City Charter amendment are not valid. Using the money for anything other than Mission Bay and Regional Parks would be a highly visible illegal diversion, and there are quite a few of us will be watching to make sure the Mayor cannot come up with some creative but highly questionable means to do so.

We do, however, need to keep an eye on the Regional Parks funds to ensure that a large share isn't diverted to Balboa Park (which otherwise is a legitimate use of some of the Regional Parks funds) for the Plaza de Panama project.


Flapper Nov. 17, 2016 @ 5:01 p.m.

You got that right! Even now, poor kids can't access the Zoo and the museums.


dwbat Nov. 18, 2016 @ 12:23 p.m.

The museums follow a "free Tuesday" schedule for residents (different museums each Tue.).


Flapper Nov. 18, 2016 @ 1:36 p.m.

Big deal! That's just for gawking. There are no free PROGRAMS for kids; those are reserved for the elite.

Once a month on one day? Besides, it's for everybody, not just kids. A kid who wants to dig deeper has to dig into herhis pocket for the dough.


dwbat Nov. 18, 2016 @ 4:41 p.m.

On every Tuesday of the month, different museums are free (NOT one day, but FOUR days each month). For example, the 4th Tuesday is Air & Space Museum, Automotive Museum and Hall of Champions.


Ponzi Nov. 18, 2016 @ 1:54 p.m.

Also, October is kids get in free month at the zoo.


haleca33 Nov. 16, 2016 @ 4:10 p.m.

I wish I had bought my automobile where Ponzi and JustWondering bought theirs. Apparently they got a car that came with free parking wherever they drove it. Free parking isn't free. It comes with wide expanses of ugly asphalt, people cruising past paid lots looking for "free" spaces, etc. And lots of employees driving alone to work and parking for "free" all day. If there is an issue here, it"s not about "free" parking. And Coons' wild statement of 267 spaces at $300,000 a space is just outrageous exgageration. He apparently thinks that getting cars out of the plaza and the additional open space created on top of the new lot is of zero benefit.


JustWondering Nov. 16, 2016 @ 5:03 p.m.

Millions of tax dollars over the decades has been collected from the citizens of San Diego. All of those 'free' spaces have been paid for many times over. Just because they've squander the money over and over doesn't mean we, the citizens didn't pay for those spaces. Yet our politicians pander to a billionaire's wet dream of transforming the park in his name.

Char-Lou Benedict poses the obvious question posted above. Why wasn't an advisory vote on the ballot. Balboa Park is a regional asset supported by the taxpayers of the City of San Diego. Not a legacy trophy for Irwin Jacobs.

As I posted earlier, I believe Measure "J" was an end-around to transfer dollars from Mission Bay Park to this boondoggle in Balboa Park. All so our Mayor would have a sugar daddy funding his bid for higher officer.

Hey, Kev, you scratch my back and I'll fund your political aspirations. Your pal, Irv


dwbat Nov. 17, 2016 @ 6:17 a.m.

"Politics makes strange bedfellows." -- Charles Dudley Warner


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