Monday, January 30, 2012

Irwin Jacobs and SOHO are leading opposing plans to upgrade Balboa Park for its 1915 centennial

On Dec. 16, Superior Court Judge Judith F. Hayes, in a preliminary ruling, deemed the memorandum illegal for the time being. With final ruling pending, Jacobs declined to comment.

The Battle Over Balboa Park
By Delle Willett
San Diego Metro
January 29, 2012

Balboa Park’s plazas were originally designed like the grand plazas of Europe, accommodating pedestrians, automobiles and pigeons. Over the years, however, the park has literally been taken over by cars with nearly 7,000 vehicles driving through the plazas and promenades daily. With 12 million visitors to the park each year, conflicts between pedestrians and vehicles abound.

This problem has long been recognized, and every plan for the park in the past 60 years has had a goal to remove the cars and return the park’s core to people.

With the 2015 Centennial Celebration of the 1915 Panama-California Exhibition in Balboa Park presenting the perfect opportunity, plans have been developed to make the Plaza de Panama a centerpiece for the centennial, removing approximately 54 parking spaces as well as preparing the park for the additional pedestrians and cars that it will require.

The two major plans being considered are The Plaza de Panama Circulation and Parking Project, presented by The Plaza de Panama Committee, a nonprofit entity formed by Dr. Irwin Jacobs, and the SOHO Precise Plan “Lite” that complies with the existing Balboa Park Master Plan and Central Mesa Precise Plan, represented by Save Our Heritage Organisation (SOHO) and a coalition of over 20 groups and organizations.

The Plaza de Panama Project is a permanent plan that involves building a bypass road— the Centennial Bridge—from the Cabrillo Bridge through the Alcazar Garden parking lot and on to a new 785-space, paid-parking, underground garage south of the Spreckles Organ Pavilion, topped with a two-acre park; free accessible tram service from the parking structure to the Plaza de Panama, resurfacing the plaza with contemporary hardscape materials, and adding shade trees, benches and replicas of the original street lights. Overall, the project adds 267 parking spots in the heart of the park and provides for increased disabled parking, a safe drop-off area and valet service.

All told, the project will reclaim 6.3 acres of parks and plazas (the Plaza de Panama, West El Prado, Plaza de California and the Esplanade) for pedestrian use only from what are now roads and surface parking lots, and significantly reduce conflicts between pedestrians and cars. This plan has been vetted by CIVITAS, a landscape and planning firm. The project is estimated to cost $40 million. Approximately $25 million of this cost is for plaza and park improvements, the construction of Centennial Bridge and Road, and improvements to the Alcazar Garden parking lot. The underground parking structure is estimated to cost $15 million.


The project will be paid for by private donations raised by the Plaza de Panama Committee and a self-supporting bond. No taxpayer funds will be required. The bond will be repaid with revenue generated from parking lot charges. The revenue will also pay for operation and maintenance of the garage and free tram service. A study found that the parking structure would generate enough revenue to support a construction bond, operations and maintenance of the structure, and the operation of the free tram.

The Plaza de Panama Committee has agreed to cover all cost overruns to ensure that there is no risk to taxpayer funds. The Committee will spend over $1,000,000 on the Environmental Information Report (EIR). Leading up to the MOU meeting, Jacobs, co-founder of Qualcomm Inc., has already spent over $2 million on public meetings and planning.

The Plaza de Panama Project must be approved by the San Diego City Council. Leading up to the decision by the City Council, a number of other bodies must provide advisory votes on the project. These include the Balboa Park Committee, the Park and Recreation Board, the Historical Resources Board and the Planning Commission.
It is anticipated that the Draft EIR will be completed and ready for public review and comment January 2012; presented to the City Council in summer 2012; and with all approvals in place, construction started by January 2013 with a scheduled completion date of January 2015.

To date the Committee has participated in roughly 90 meetings with citizen groups, Balboa Park organizations and other stakeholders. Feedback has resulted in positive changes to the project from the first meeting, held more than a year ago. Since then, there have been countless improvements made to the project based on public feedback, and there continue to be.

Alternative Plans

On July 19 the city approved a Memo of Understanding (MOU) with the Plaza de Panama Committee, which served as a contract to continue with the Plaza de Panama plan. At the same time, a number of alternatives to this proposed project are also being thoroughly studied in the EIR. The environmental review process will assess potential impacts of the proposed project and alternatives in the areas of traffic circulation, cultural and historic resources, biological resources, and a number of others. Some people believe as is, the MOU puts the city in the position to go with Jacobs’ plan and precludes them using any alternative.

In response to the memorandum, SOHO sued in San Diego Superior Court to rescind the memorandum claiming the city approved the contract illegally before the completion of a state environmental review. On Dec. 16, Superior Court Judge Judith F. Hayes, in a preliminary ruling, deemed the memorandum illegal for the time being. With final ruling pending, Jacobs declined to comment...

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

California attorney general sues to stop $200 billion regional transportation plan; San Diego has seventh-worst ozone pollution

Morning Report: Attorney General Rocks San Diego Planners
January 24, 2012
By Randy Dotinga

The state attorney general has sued to stop the $200 billion regional transportation plan that makes freeways a priority, saying it doesn't do enough to get drivers out of cars.

"The 3.2 million residents of the San Diego region already suffer from the seventh worst ozone pollution in the country," Attorney General Kamala Harris said in a statement. "Spending our transit dollars in the right way today will improve the economy, create sustainable jobs and ensure that future generations do not continue to suffer from heavily polluted air."

The plan, drafted by a local coalition of governments, sets a blueprint for the next 40 years.

Our story provides plenty of ways for you to understand this ongoing story, including a look at how the state became skeptical of the plan in the first place, a San Diego Explained video about where the money goes, a summary of key issues and a reader's guide to the whole debate.