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San Diego Moves Toward Balboa Park Makeover

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A plan presented by Qualcomm founder Irwin Jacobs for a major makeover of Balboa Park has received preliminary support from the San Diego City Council.

The San Diego City Council voted Tuesday to enter into a Memorandum Of Understanding with the Plaza de Panama Committee, which is headed up by Qualcomm co-founder Irwin Jacobs. The agreement isn’t binding, but gives the committee assurances the city council is open to some version of the plan.

"We need some indication that this project is acceptable to the council,'' said Jacobs, who has already chipped in $2 million for early studies and designs.

The Jacobs plan calls for building an access road off the south side of the Cabrillo Bridge entrance to the park. It would route traffic out of the Plaza de Panama in time for the 2015 centennial of the park’s international exposition. The plan also calls for the construction of a parking garage behind the Speckels Organ Pavilion.

San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders supports the Jacobs plan, which he said could spur more donations to the park.

"It’s a signal to the foundations and philanthropists whose help is critical to Balboa Park’s future," he said. "It tells them: 'Yes, San Diego is open to new ideas and bold vision.'"

Under the agreement, Jacobs would help raise $25 million toward the estimated $40 million project. The remaining cost would be covered by revenues from the new underground parking garage. The Plaza de Panama committee would also fund an Environmental Impact Report.

But the Save Our Heritage Organization said the plan would harm the historic nature of the park. And SOHO’s attorney, Susan Brandt-Hawley, said the MOU may not be legal.

"What isn’t appropriate - especially for a landmark site like this when there is a historic resource at stake and so much public controversy - is to right now basically ask you to to agree with the development vision before you’ve had the chance to look at alternatives," she said.

The council voted seven to one to enter into the agreement, with Councilwoman Sherri Lightner opposing the plan. The council said it would consider alternatives to the Jacobs plan as well.

Jacobs said he anticipates the project will be completed by December 2014, in time for the park's centennial in 2015.

City News Service contributed to this story

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