San Diego Planning Commission Approves Balboa Park Plan That Removes Cars and Parking From the Plaza de Panama
From the San Diego Union-Tribune – The Planning Commission unanimously approved Qualcomm cofounder Irwin Jacobs’ $45 million plan Thursday to get cars and parking out of the center of Balboa Park. The City Council is scheduled to take final action July 9.
The action came despite some commissioners’ misgivings for a bypass bridge that would be built off the Cabrillo Bridge at the western entrance to the park and, in some park lovers’ view, would ruin the historic character of the buildings erected for the 1915-16 Panama-California Exposition.
“My advice will be — do what you can to hide the bridge,” said Commissioner Robert Griswold, addressing Jacobs, who sat through the eight-hour hearing in the front row of the council chambers at City Hall. “I’m sure it will be beautiful in some way, but change the look, the character, the feel.”
Jacobs said after the vote that he was surprised at the 7-0 vote, considering how many of the commissioners expressed concern about the bridge and other aspects at last month’s workshop on the project. But he said the commission’s decision will be a “great help” in getting council approval next month.
Bruce Coons, executive director of the Save Our Heritage Organization, which led the opposition, said he was surprised at the result, commenting that the commission seemed “dazzled” by Jacobs’ presence. He said he thinks the council may act differently.
“We expect them to uphold the law, do the right thing and reject the project,” Coons said.
The plan, in the works for nearly two years, would do what more than 50 years of plans have failed to do — remove cars and parking from the Plaza de Panama in front of the San Diego Museum of Art and create what landscape architect Martin Poirier called a “venerable place.”
“I can’t stress how important it is for San Diego to embrace the national trend to wean ourselves off the auto and create walkable places for people.”
The Plaza de California in front of the San Diego Museum of Man also would be off-limits to cars and become, along the larger Panama space, places for visitors to picnic, watch performers and enjoy the Spanish Colonial architecture that architect Bertram Goodhue envisioned a century ago.
But to achieve that end, the 405-foot, 44-foot wide “Centennial Bridge” would detour cars off the Cabrillo Bridge, route them through the Alcazar Garden parking lot to the south and direct them to a 822-space parking garage south of the Spreckels Organ Pavilion, which would be topped by a 2.2-acre park.
The cost is to be covered by $31 million raised by Jacobs’ Plaza de Panama Committee — presumably much of it from his family — and $14 million from a parking revenue bond, to be paid by parking charges in the garage, pegged at $5 for each five-hour period. It would be the first time parking is charged in the park.
Commissioner Stephen Haase said there is a price to be paid for free parking — alluding to studies that people carpool less, hog spaces that others might want to use and ignore public transit options.
“I don’t have any problem with looking at paid parking, not only in Balboa Park but in other places in the city to improve access for all,” Haase said.
Opponents supported some of the alternatives, studied in a 9,000-page environmental impact report, ranging from closing Cabrillo Bridge to building the garage elsewhere to letting cars continue traversing the two plazas. The present park master plan calls for removing the 67 spaces in the central plaza but permitting driving to continue along El Prado and south to Pan American Plaza outside the San Diego Air and Space Museum.
Architect Bill Lewis spent the most time outlining…to read the rest of this story, please click here.