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.