Ian Anderson 11 a.m., Dec. 9
New SOHO Lawsuit Challenges Plaza de Panama Plan
Save Our Heritage Organisation, which has long been vocal in its opposition to the plan to transform Balboa Park’s Plaza de Panama, yesterday filed a lawsuit against the City of San Diego over what the group calls a “failure to comply with local and state laws” in approving the project.
Earlier this year, SOHO prevailed in another lawsuit against the city for prematurely entering into a Memorandum of Understanding expressing approval for the project, which is backed by outgoing Mayor Jerry Sanders and Qualcomm founder Irwin Jacobs. The latter has pledged $25 million toward the goal of removing vehicle traffic from the plaza and returning it to a pedestrian zone, but only if his preferred plan of building a new auxiliary bridge and a paid parking structure is implemented.
“We expect to prevail again,” said SOHO executive director Bruce Coons in a release, “because the new violations of law that threaten Balboa Park are again blatant.”
“The City of San Diego concedes that the Plaza de Panama project would cause significant adverse impacts to the iconic architecture and cultural landscapes of Balboa Park, a national historic landmark,” states the petition filed by the group’s lawyer.
SOHO contends that there are other ways to resolve the situation in the Plaza that will have fewer impacts on the natural and built environment, and that the California Environmental Quality Act requires the city to instead pursue these alternatives, calling their approach “inadequate and incomplete.”
Further, the suit claims that the project violates the city’s own municipal code, which allows for the alteration of the historic Cabrillo Bridge if “no reasonable beneficial use” remains of Balboa Park. SOHO turns to California State Historic Preservation Officer Milford Wayne Donaldson, who notes that even “if there was no project, Balboa Park would continue to serve the public as it has for almost 100 years.”
Finally, SOHO points to an 1870 declaration by the state legislature that Balboa Park is to be held by the city “in trust forever” for “the use and purposes of a free and public park.” The group claims that the installation of a paid parking facility, which is an integral part of the Sanders/Jacobs plan, is at odds with the language calling for a “free” park.
The National Park Service has also weighed in against the plan, saying that it would have a “permanent, major and adverse effect on the integrity of the Balboa Park National Historical Landmark.” The Service is not a party to the suit.