When you're a billionaire it's pretty easy to shape public opinion or at least shape the public's view of public opinion. And when you are mayor and have endless resources at your disposal it's easy to create a giant facade to cover the truth about a truly destructive project. And that is precisely what has been happening with the much maligned Plaza de Panama Balboa Park renovation.

The mayor -- who has a long history of being a serious bully -- has teamed up with other San Diego bullies like billionaire Irwin Jacobs, the paid parking giants and the Building Industry to pass the most egregious and illegal project in San Diego's history -- the Plaza de Panama. The plan is billed as eliminating vehicular traffic from the Plaza which NO ONE is disagreeing with, but the plan does so much damage to the beloved park, opening it up to private interests while much better alternatives are available that citizens are up in arms that these bullies are forcing this plan on us illegally and threatening our park's National Historic Landmark status.

Judging from the meeting Monday it would be abundantly clear to a spectator that the public doesn't just "not like" this project, they HATE this project with a passion. But looking at the media you see an entirely different picture.

The chambers were so packed on Monday that three overflow rooms had to be opened to the public. Citizens that are usually extremely diplomatic, poised and mild mannered were extremely animated at Monday's hearing because of what was at stake. A normally calm audience could not keep quiet either as they witnessed the clear favoritism of Jacobs, Sanders and his developer buddies by Faulconer and all other Council members but Lightner.

Citizens went crazy for ex-City attorney Mike Aguirre who insisted “Mr. Jacobs, you’re not just destroying Balboa Park, you’re destroying democracy in San Diego" and that the park belonged to the people not "the City". They couldn't keep quiet when Kevin Faulconer tried to cut him off shouting out they would cede their time. Yet the media describes Aguirre's populist diatribe that received a roar of applause as "cringe-worthy" and "idiotic".

In fact the Jacobs-friendly UT described opponents of the plan as "idiotic" yes that's right the vast majority of the public that opposes this plan is "idiotic" in their editorial piece. They also cheer Councilwoman and special interest shill Lorie Zapf (who clearly lacked any real knowledge about the project) for attacking SOHO.

Bruce Coons of SOHO has been the greatest advocate for the vast majority of the public who opposes this and we owe him a huge debt of gratitude. He has also been the victim of a massive smear campaign by the UT, VOSD, KPBS and other Jacob's media productions that have such a huge financial stake in this bad project going through. Many cities are not as lucky as San Diego to have people like Bruce and Alana Coons who devote themselves full-time to protecting the public from these destructive and illegal projects by the City and the City's special interests.

The Voice of San Diego insisted Bruce's claim that nothing significant had changed about the plan during the 2 years of meetings and public input was flat out "False" in their "Fact Check" which has now lost all credibility in my opinion.

"Hours before the vote, Coons rallied opponents outside City Hall and appeared on several local TV stations in yet another effort to sway public opinion behind him. He mainly argues the plan would destroy the park’s historical integrity.

But in an interview with CBS8, Coons added another argument he and other opponents often cite. They claim the public has been shut out from deciding Balboa Park’s future, and its remaking will reflect the vision of only one man, Qualcomm co-founder Irwin Jacobs.

To buttress that idea, Coons argued Jacobs and other proponents have completely ignored the public. He told CBS8 (emphasis added):

It’s been a complete sham. This thing was fully baked two years ago. It was put on the scene. We were told we were all going to have input into it. They’ve changed it not one bit."

Apparently Jacobs and his "team" moved some bathrooms and widened a few lanes. The changes did not represent a compromise in ANY way since the primary issues were the devastation of the historic Cabrillo bridge and the introduction of paid parking. The other issues were inconsequential and were more of an insult than an acknowledgement of concerns.

VOSD does disclose that Jacobs is a major donor to Voice of San Diego which in and of itself should discredit any reporting on the issue. And is probably why VOSD blasts Bruce Coons and portrays him as inaccurate and entitled and nothing could be further from the truth. SOHO even worked with Master architect William Lewis to design an alternate plan pro bono that would accomplish the alleged goals of the Jacobs plan and would cost far less but Jacobs team would not even acknowledge the plan -- a fact that indicates there is much more to this plan than the alleged goals which is why I refer to the plan as a red herring.

I've said before it is my opinion that the goal of this plan is to destroy the National Landmark Status District designation to make exploitation of the park's 1400 acres possible.

KPBS has also spun the Jacobs plan in a very favorable light showing a lot of Jacobs promo videos for the plan and seriously downplaying any concerns. But it's important to note KPBS received a 2.5 million dollar gift from Jacobs which really brings into question how a station can claim to be "public" radio when it receives millions of dollars from a giant corporate donor that can use his "donation" to shape the narrative of his projects.

So with all these Jacobs-run media sources and millions of dollars to shape public opinion it is more than challenging for concerned citizens to find the truth. From reading these sources you would think the plan is a gift from heaven and the answer to many of the park's problems, but nothing could be further from the truth. The plan is a Pandora's box of devastating and permanent consequences. It will be the biggest mistake San Diego has ever made. Please examine stories from Jacob's media sources with a huge grain of salt and take action to help save our historic park.

If you care about Balboa Park please consider making a donation to SOHO who has announced they will sue to stop this plan.

If you want to join the dialogue with the citizens strongly opposed to this project come join the Plaza de Panama Facebook page here.


DavidnPB July 15, 2012 @ 10:25 p.m.

Carl De Maio , the Mayor and the other "aye" votes on the Council abandoned the Public and the Park's history. SOHO, Bob Filner and Ms. Lightner are the heros here.

Gloria's NO vote could have stopped this thing, as the Council tends to follow the leader when a project is on one's District. And Todd was the "leader" here. Carl was a follower.

PAID Parking will be the rule in the entire park immediately, and in the ZOO lot. Behavioral Economics dictates that result, and the Council was fully informed of this. A Paid parking garage surrounded by free parking will remain empty until all the free spaces are occupied. The projected revenue for the garage is a joke, as the City's own fiscal analyst said. When the Zoo parking lot fills up with people avoiding the paid parking, the Zoo will begin paid parking, as they can under the terms of their lease with the City. The only "idiots" in this are you and the Council members who are ignoring economic reality.

Volunteers in the ZOO, the Museums and the Globe will not pay $5.00 an hour to volunteer!

Seniors, young families and students cannot and will not pay $5.00 for a casual visit to the Park.

"Free" Tuesdays just became $5.00 -$25.00 Tuesdays.

The "Free" Organ Pavilion concerts on Sunday afternoons and in the evenings in the Summer Series just became $20.00 concerts.

Annual Members of the ZOO and the Museums, who could visit any time for free with their memberhips, will not visit at $5.00-$25.00 a visit. Visits will decline, memberships will decline, support will decline.

SOHO will litigate this and will win. This will NEVER be build. De Maio's plee and that of the Chamber of Commerce that the opposition smoke the peace pipe and ignore their duty to protect the Park will fortunately be IGNORED. Mayor Filner will do all he can to to ensure this Plan will NEVER become a tragic reality.

But we should all never forget these politicians who put their financial supporter--Jacobs' Billions--ahead of the People and their Park.


DavidnPB July 15, 2012 @ 10:27 p.m.

The Spreckels Organ Society OPPOSES the "JacobsPlan" and supports the alternative the LEWIS PLAN.



May 29, 2012.

The Spreckels Organ Society supports the over-all concept of removing vehicle traffic from the Plaza de Panama and returning the Plaza and adjacent gardens to their early 1915 design concepts.

The Spreckels Organ Society desires to be a positive force to realize this goal.

The Society at its February 28, 2012 meeting endorsed, with reservations, the original Jacobs Plan as presented at that date. At that time, it was the only comprehensive plan available for consideration.

Since that time, a Jacobs Plan B [ The "Lewis Plan"] has been put forward as an alternative.

After review, the Society feels that Plan B [ The "Lewis Plan"] best meets the over-all concept and removes the Society’s previous reservations with the original plan.

The positive aspects of the Jacobs Plan B as they relate to the Spreckels Organ Pavilion are as follows:

-Free parking is retained in the lot behind the Pavilion. This is important as all programs at the Organ Pavilion are to be presented without charge as stipulated in the deed of gift from the Spreckels brothers.

-Underground parking is provided under the Plaza de Panama in close proximity to the Museums and the Old Globe Theater. It is also available for events at the Organ Pavilion.

-The need for Trams is reduced or eliminated.

-The Jacobs Plan B appears to provide the least negative impact to the Park’s gardens and over-all environment.



Burwell July 15, 2012 @ 11:41 p.m.

Irwin Jacobs recently donated $2 million to the President's reelection campaign. Qualcomm is currently under investigation for accusations of bribery and payoffs in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. I suspect the investigation will be dropped shortly.


Gregory May July 16, 2012 @ 7:31 a.m.

Everyone's afraid of 'loosing Balboa Park's Historic Status', which is important, but I don't see enough of people saying the Jacobs' Plaza De Panama Project is UGLY—JUST PLAIN UGLY!!!

Voice of San Diego & KPBS have a definite conflict of interest on this issue, and any media coming from either cannot be trusted, along with our Mayor and City Council.


eastlaker July 16, 2012 @ 9:38 a.m.

Yes, it is ugly. It also appears to me to be massively unsafe. It looks like they were aiming for an art deco-like design, which is at odds with the park's Mediterranean style, obviously. But with the sharp jog to the right, followed by what looks like an almost hairpin curve left, aren't we asking for cars to shoot off the road and end up in the canyon? I mean, really!! Every once in a while there are cars that shoot off freeway exits in Mission Valley, and yes, the speed limit there is higher. But to plan a road that needs to handle capacity, yet not have a gradual curve is mind-boggling. This artist's rendition makes me very wary--and proves to me that this plan is very far from being well-thought out.

So yes, I have multiple objections to the plan--aesthetic, safety issue related, not to mention the betrayal of the public trust which has meant we are discussing a plan so bone-headed as to actually almost seem surreal.

Welcome to the new America, with ego-centrism taking the lead over the public good. I pray that wiser and clearer heads will prevail.

Balboa Park is not Mr. Jacob's back yard, much as it appears he would like it to be. If he needs more scope for his public vision, perhaps he should purchase some land with zoning that allows for his creativity to flow freely. And then donate it, if he so chooses. But don't ruin what is here and what works.


planet619 July 16, 2012 @ 7:56 p.m.

This is an important story and shows that a free press is imperative to our democratic process. The attempt to sidestep the real and massive public reaction to this project is completely irresponsible. It was part of the planned PR by Sanders from before the hearing. Yep, I saw Jim Bartell and he was there to craft the message for Jacobs/Sanders. But even as Todd Gloria even is in his office deleting all of the entries critical of the project from his facebook page as fast as they are coming in, he also leaked the PR that was yet to come way back at the South Park Old House Fair. Todd stated his estimation was that 50% were in favor of the project and 50% were not. Well that didn't jive with reality at the city council hearing or with the letters the council members received so where did he get those numbers? Maybe it was from his PR consultant When he said this to me, I couldn't let it go because of the reaction to what people were saying when they came into my shop and saw my Balboa Park post card on the counter. I don't think anyone said that they liked the plan.

So Todd told me this lie (spin) first at the Old House Fair. I asked Todd to come stand and listen to people as they saw the project as I tried to inform him that he was off base. I now see that this was the beginning of the crafting of the message for the PR campaign and it is a disservice to the process and couldn't be further from the truth.
One final point. If you don't like this project you need to stick your neck out now. This is not a project that only SOHO is opposing there are thousands of signatures against it and the process is a failure. I think that the process this went through is a complete sham that is so egregious that a grand jury complaint is in order. Further, this article assumes that Jacobs gave funds to support these news organizations to help promote his ideals and Yes that is exactly what it looks like. So thanks to the History Matters writer for the Reader for helping shed light on the abuse of the process. It is time to take the baton from SOHO for awhile and reclaim our park back. What are you going to do to help now?


rdotinga July 16, 2012 @ 9:23 p.m.

I'm a part-time contributor to Voice of San Diego and write their Morning Report several days a week. I'm also a critic of the Jacobs plan.

If Irwin Jacobs did fund VOSD and KPBS with the intention of swaying their coverage on things like this, he really should ask for a refund.

While the local mainstream media certainly hasn't been aggressively anti-Jacobs, it's hardly treated SOHO and its allies as crazy aunts in the basement. They've gotten respectful -- but not admiring -- coverage, with maybe a lapse here or there.

What the anti-Jacobs folks want is media that advocates for their side. On the other hand, they seem to want a local media that's not funded (or run) by anyone who has an agenda. You won't find that anywhere, even in the pages of the Reader.

-Randy Dotinga


SurfPuppy619 July 17, 2012 @ 1:23 a.m.

Randy-you have a brass set buddy! Well said


historymatters July 17, 2012 @ 7:31 p.m.

rdotinga...the fact that Jacobs gave KPBS 2.5 MILLION dollars is no small donation and creates an enormous conflict of interest. In regards to SOHO I think VOSD has been very unfair to SOHO particularly in the example I cite above. I would not say theyve been "respectful" at all. In fact the UT came out and said anti-Jacobs people were "idiotic"...I dont see how that is respectful?


rdotinga July 17, 2012 @ 9:49 p.m.

  1. So it's impossible for a media organization to fairly cover someone who funds it? That's an offensive slur on journalists who do their best to be fair regardless of where their salaries come from. (I'm no VOSD apologist, but you should be aware that their coverage of the Jacobs-funded downtown library was quite critical.)
  2. As for conflicts of interest: Good luck finding a journalist on earth who doesn't have one. If a journalist has a significant conflict of interest, she should get rid of it or disclose it.
  3. The Fact Check you cite is debatable, and reasonable minds can differ. I probably would have given the claim a different verdict. Sometimes I wish the only choices were "entirely true" and "not entirely true" without all the business about "mostly" or "barely." If so, that claim would clearly be "not entirely true."
  4. The U-T did go overboard with the "idiotic" nonsense, but that's an editorial, not a news story.

GlennS1 July 17, 2012 @ 5:05 a.m.

The "Long Arm Of Wealth" becomes almost dictatorial in nature when members of The Wealth Club work together. If it is one thing they do not like it is anyone who opposes them or stands in their way.

If you are a politician, and you stand in the way of wealth, those who hold the power of wealth will bear down on you to evict you from office. If you are in business and are not wealthy, your job, your business will become a target. If you are a charity, you best not bite, or ignore the hand that feeds you (money).

Donating a few hundred dollars is commendable. Donating millions gives you the ability to control people, be they in the public, private, or charitable sectors. We see this very clearly happening in the Plaza de Panama Project. Control people and you run the city.

If you are a person in authority, an authority figure yourself, someone with influence, and you spoke out against the Plaza de Panama project, watch your back. It seems the unwritten word has already circulated around The Wealth Club and an editorial in the Union Tribune is attacking Sherri Lightner for voting FOR the people, and against the project. She is the first victim of the smoking gun of wealth, who will be next? Make a list of all people and organizations who opposed the project and wait and watch. The power of The Wealth Club will be aimed and sooner than later start picking them off like sitting ducks.

What we see going on in San Diego is philanthropy turned wicked. It is money using the most basic of principles; reward and punishment. It is money smiling all the way to the bank, and smiling as it gets its revenge against those who stand in its way. It is a very powerful force. It is like a black hole. Get too near and you get sucked in and are unable to exit without causing your own self destruction.


Sign in to comment

Get $5 off any Reader event

Sign up for our email list to get your promo code