Ken Leighton 11 a.m., May 20
Plaza de Panama Planners Dispute Criticisms
Supporters of a new bridge and paid parking structure at Balboa Park yesterday released a document entitled “Plaza de Panama – Myth vs. Fact,” yesterday afternoon. “Clearing up some misinformation in our quest to restore the heart of Balboa Park,” tweeted Mayor Sanders, including a link to the document, hosted on the city’s website.
We reported in a post last week on the basics of the plan, including an altered photo of what the new ‘bypass bridge’ off the Cabrillo Bridge would look like. Among the points the booster group backed by Sanders and Irwin Jacobs wishes to make:
The project will, in large part, not affect the Cabrillo Bridge. The only major change to the iconic structure would be the removal of “fewer than 70 feet of concrete road railing.” Much, if not all of this barrier, extends past the end of the current bridge. Access to the new ‘Centennial Bridge’ to bypass the Plaza would be at a stop sign past the terminus of Cabrillo Bridge.
Closing the existing Cabrillo Bridge to vehicle traffic is not a viable option. The document raises the issue that closing the bridge would cause park visitors to leave their cars on the other side, creating parking issues in the Park West and Banker’s Hill neighborhoods. Further, with Park Blvd. as the only vehicle access point, traffic would increase in neighborhoods near that entrance. Convenient drop-off points for the Old Globe Theater and several museums would be compromised.
The bypass road will not affect the peaceful atmosphere in Alcazar Gardens. The project would simply move the traffic (estimated at 7,000 cars per day) from El Prado on the north side of the gardens to the south side, at a distance farther from the gardens themselves. “In addition, the traffic will be at a lower grade than it is along El Prado and there is additional landscape space and a low wall to buffer sound,” says the statement.
Introducing paid parking via the proposed garage does not mean visitors will be charged to park in spaces currently available free. Per the document “It is not unusual for paid parking to exist in close proximity with free parking; it works just fine in other areas of San Diego. Some park visitors will be happy to pay a small charge to park in a shaded structure that is serviced by a tram and close to the park amenities they want to visit.”
The Plaza de Panama Committee says it was receptive to community input, holding over 90 open meetings regarding their proposal. While the environmental impact review studies are being completed, alternatives will be explored, including a plan to tunnel under the Plaza. The Save Our Heritage Organization’s proposal to have cars enter from Quince street and traverse a two-lane road under Cabrillo Bridge was rejected by the Committee because it called for construction of retaining walls up to 40 feet high.
The document also touches on several other points, including an assertion that the project can be built in time for the 2015 centennial celebration of the Panama-California Exhibition and that private funding arranged by Jacobs will cover all but $15 million of the project, including cost overruns.
Pictured: Save Our Heritage Organization's proposed bypass under Cabrillo Bridge.