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Preservation group Save Our Heritage Organisation has been granted a petition for writ of mandate filed last summer over the city of San Diego’s adoption of a memorandum of understanding lending support to a proposal to revamp Balboa Park’s Plaza de Panama.

The plan, pushed by mayor Jerry Sanders and Qualcomm founder/philanthropist Irwin Jacobs, would eliminate vehicle access by creating a bypass bridge which would loop around the heart of the plaza and lead to a paid parking garage.

Per a release from the preservation group, superior court judge Judith Hayes concludes that the memorandum “constitutes an approval of the proposed project without prior environmental review as required.... The [memorandum] constitutes action that effectively forecloses due consideration of project alternatives or mitigation measures that are essential parts of [California Environmental Quality Act] review.”

SOHO and other community groups had pushed for consideration of alternate proposals to convert the Plaza for exclusive pedestrian use, but Jacobs, who intends to contribute a major portion of the needed funding for the project, indicated his support hinged on adoption of the new bridge/parking garage scheme.

Sanders then contacted citizens, urging them to write city council members and push for approval of the memorandum supporting the plan touted by Jacobs and him. Though the council’s rules committee declined to endorse the agreement, Sanders still appeared before the full council and pushed for its approval.

“This evidence shows that the City publicly defended the project in the face of opposition and committed resources to its approval. The commitment of resources is also evidenced in the terms of the memorandum where the City is required to provide staff assistance and direction at no cost to the committee. In addition, the City is to secure tax-exempt bonds to construct the parking structure,” states the ruling by Hayes.

“We know that the majority of San Diegans will share our admiration for the court's cogent application of environmental law, upholding the fair and open public process mandated by the California Environmental Quality Act. Now the Plaza de Panama Committee and the City must comply with the law and consider alternate ways to remove parking from the Plaza de Panama without the needless compromise of a national landmark,” said Bruce Coons, SOHO’s executive director, on the ruling.

The memorandum of understanding, having been deemed illegal, must now be set aside. It is expected that such action will breathe new life into alternate proposals for eliminating vehicle access to the site, though full consideration and environmental review requirements mean that any project, once properly approved, may not be completed before the 100th anniversary of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition that was the event which sparked the initial development of Balboa Park.

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dwbat Jan. 23, 2012 @ 9:03 a.m.

"Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power." -Abraham Lincoln


jelula Jan. 23, 2012 @ noon

There's already an excellent plan, adopted in 1989 after more than a decade of intensive public discussion to reach consensus. This could be implemented almost immediately with relatively little cost - remove the 67 parking spaces and limit vehicle access to one lane from the west, transiting the southwest corner of the Plaza where there would be drop-off & pick-up of passengers.

Virtually everyone who come in across the Cabrillo Bridge (if they're coming to the Park and not through as commuters) must continue through to parking lots behind and beyond the Organ Pavilion since the odds are remote for finding a space in the Plaza or Alcazar lot after 9 am. Access is much easier via Park Blvd. as I, an OB/Pt.Loma resident, experience every time I come to the Park.

ADA spaces now in the Plaza can be replaced by re-designating a dozen or more of the 130 spaces in the Alcazar Garden lot for ADA use. From that lot, there's quick and easy access through the Alcazar Garden to the West Prado(with minor improvements for transition from the Garden to the arcade walkway).


Visduh Jan. 23, 2012 @ 7:37 p.m.

This was a perfect example of the "strong mayor" system in action. Sanders recognizes no limit to his powers. He bullies the council and when his bullying doesn't work, simply ignores the council. Irwin Jacobs was a technological genius and became a billionaire. But when he decides some issue, that doesn't mean he's got the best of all possible choices. He buys his reputation for being a philanthropist with such gifts as $110 million given to the Symphony a few years ago. Just because he's willing to fund this boondoggle doesn't mean that the city must accept it. Good for the judge! Good for SOHO! Let's look at this matter from all angles. Money should not make the decision, even when it is "free" money from Jacobs.


Burwell Jan. 23, 2012 @ 8:12 p.m.

In my opinion, Jacobs wants to build the parking lot as a first step toward constructing a large art museum in the center of the park as a monument to himself when he expires. The parking lot he intends to build appears to be part of the foundation for his art museum. Once Jacobs builds the parking lot it will be difficult to stop construction of his museum. I believe that he intends to turn Balboa Park into a monument to himself, much like the Pharoahs who built pyramids in ancient Egypt.


Visduh Jan. 23, 2012 @ 9:29 p.m.

You just might be right on with that appraisal. He's building monuments to himself by getting things so named. So far he hasn't managed to get his name on anything really monumental. Nothing like the Getty museum in LA. If that's what he wants, what better spot than Balboa Park? He could even have the thing tourists remember more than the zoo. What an opportunity! All he needs is lots of money. Wait, he HAS lots of money and little else to spend it on. Yep, Burwell, you have it figured out for sure.


Burwell Jan. 23, 2012 @ 10:10 p.m.

Putting the Jacobs name on a garden variety downtown library certainly isn't going to do it for him. A man with his ego would want something world class.


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