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Roundtable: Balboa Park, Bridgepoint, Backcountry Wildlife Killings

Evening Edition

Voice of San Diego reporter Liam Dillon and U-T San Diego reporter Roger Showley talk to KPBS about the Plaza de Panama at Balboa Park and Bridgepoint Education.

Aired 7/13/12 on KPBS Midday Edition.

Guests: Roger Showley, UT San Diego

Liam Dillon, VoiceofSanDiego

Rob Davis, VoiceofSanDiego


Jacobs Plan Approved for Plaza de Panama: Less than 24 hours after the San Diego City Council approved a controversial plan which would change the entrance to Balboa Park, the preservationist group Save Our Heritage Organisation (SOHO) and others announced a lawsuit against the city.

On Monday the San Diego City Council voted 6-1 to approve a plan which accomplishes the long-held goal of both civic leaders and preservationists to remove cars from the center of the park. The design routes traffic from the Cabrillo Bridge onto a newly built road around the Museum of Man and then to an underground parking structure.

The project, expected to cost $45.3 million with the hoped-for completion date of 2015 in time for the park's centennial, was proposed by Qualcomm co-founder Irwin Jacobs. It roused the ire of preservationist groups mainly because of the proposed new road.

Monday’s agenda item on the plan lasted more than seven hours and included boos, insults, applause, and the occasional bit of theater.

SOHO said the grounds for the lawsuit were the parking fees for the underground garage, which potantially violate the dedication of the park as “free in perpetuity.” The groups also allege violations of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). SOHO is raising funds to pursue the lawsuit.

Bridgepoint School Loses Accreditation: Ashford University, one of San Diego’s largest private employers, is in trouble.

The for-profit university run by San Diego-based Bridgepoint Education was denied accreditation this week by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). Ashford employs about 3,000 San Diegans to handle its on-line courses.

Accreditation is crucial to Ashford. Without it, its students are not eligible for federal funds. The company cannot continue to operate out of San Diego without accreditation. Bridgepoint may have to move jobs out of San Diego and into Iowa, where Ashford maintains a small physical campus which is still in good standing. It has a very limited time to fix its shortcomings to gain accreditation here, which include a high drop-out rate and inadequate funding for education programs.

Ashford and another Bridgepoint college located in Colorado attracted nearly 78,000 students for mostly on-line courses in 2010. A large number of Ashford's students would not be eligible for or likely to attend traditional colleges. As Ashford students, however, they are eligible for federal student aid.

Last year Ashford’s 84% dropout rate led U.S. Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa to excoriate Bridgepoint executives in a Senate hearing for its “spectacular record of student failure” (some 84% drop out) and lavish executive compensation. If a university is not accredited, its students are not eligible to receive federal aid. Bridgepoint’s stock fell by more than one third on Monday.

USDA Killing Backcountry Wildlife: More than 18,000 animals have been killed in San Diego's backcountry since 2005 by an obscure federal agency, according to VoiceofSandiego. The agency, Wildlife Services, is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture,

Following a report on Wildlife Services in the Sacramento Bee, VoiceofSanDiego requested information on what the agency was doing locally -- which animals were killed and how, where, when and why.

Some were pests like skunks, raccoons, possums and rats. Hundreds of coots, small ducks that congregate around golf courses, were killed. Great blue herons and hawks, which may have posed threats to endangered species, were also killed as were seven mountain lions, 26 bobcats, 24 gray foxes and hundreds of coyotes.

VoiceofSanDiego reporter Rob Davis wanted to find out how many animals were killed, where, when and why. Wildlife Services failed to release much of the information requested by VoiceofSanDiego. The agency offered no explanation for many killings, which also included several species of ducks, 54 beavers and two western meadowlarks.

VoiceofSanDiego has protested the government’s response to its FOIA request and demanded a complete response.

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Avatar for user 'gooserhack22'

gooserhack22 | July 13, 2012 at 12:20 p.m. ― 4 years, 8 months ago

I completely agree with Mel Shapiro. A low-cost, effective solution is to simply remove the parking spots in the Plaza de Panama and/or install 'No Parking' signs. The time, money, and energy being expended on this issue is almost comical and could be better used for other projects or for other improvements to Balboa Park.

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Avatar for user 'griffithmk'

griffithmk | July 13, 2012 at 12:22 p.m. ― 4 years, 8 months ago

I believe eliminating a portion of the park to create a large parking structure is a horrible decision. If you would like to increase pedestrian traffic while eliminating automobile traffic the focus should be on increasing mass transit. Years ago the trolley line ran through Park Blvd. Why not spend the funds on bringing the trolley line up from City College?

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Avatar for user 'GandT'

GandT | July 13, 2012 at 12:46 p.m. ― 4 years, 8 months ago

The Historic Preservation issues with the Plaza de Panama Project:

1) The Plaza de Panama Project does NOT meet Secretary for the Interior Standards for Historic Preservation.

2) The highest Historic Preservation authorities in the Land say this project is so historically destructive it could actually put Balboa Park’s National Historic Landmark District (NHLD) status at risk.

* California’s State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) opposes the Proposed Plaza de Panama Project:
* The National Parks Service opposes the Proposed Plaza de Panama Project:
* San Diego’s own Historic Resources Board opposes the Proposed Plaza de Panama Project:
* The Plaza de Panama Project’s own Environmental Impact Report (EIR) admits it is has significant and unmitigable impacts to Historic Resources:
direct quote from the EIR:

" Impacts a. Centennial Bridge Architectural Character
The Centennial Bridge component of the project would require the demolition of 70 linear feet of the south balustrade of Cabrillo Bridge and the construction of new abutments and a curvilinear concrete bridge over Cabrillo Canyon, located southwest of the California Quadrangle. The work would also require regrading a portion of this canyon.
The new Centennial Bridge would introduce a modern architectural element in a historical setting, thereby, resulting in a significant impact on both Cabrillo Bridge and the California Quadrangle, including a permanent visual impact on an iconic view of the two structures from the West Mesa and from the floor of Cabrillo Canyon. Impacts associated with incompatible architectural style would be significant for this project component. Significance of Impacts a. Centennial Bridge
Impacts associated with neighborhood character/architecture would be significant for this project component because it would introduce elements of modern architecture"

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Avatar for user 'Chris West'

Chris West | July 13, 2012 at 12:53 p.m. ― 4 years, 8 months ago

I believe that it was unwise for our elected city council to follow the money, but I guess that's all we can expect of them. I don't think Jacobs philanthropy should have swayed their vote so much. Balboa Park belongs to the people, not our elected "misreresentatives" or the Qualcomm billionaire. The caller that said he should have directed it toward homeless services instead was spot on. How can we build ugly parking garages in Balboa Park and segregate it from our less well-off brothers and sisters who can barely feed the kids, let alone pay to park, when some of them are not even having their needs met. Disappointing, council members. your priorities are bass ackwards. Let’s take care of our people, give them a hand up not a hand out.

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Avatar for user 'Abe A'

Abe A | July 13, 2012 at 1:01 p.m. ― 4 years, 8 months ago

@ Rob Davis

If someone called me up and asked for my "whole database" I would laugh too. I commend you on pursuing this story, but you are overdramatizing their response.

I agree we have a right to the information, but wholesale dumping of raw data to a reporter to spin how he/she wants in this day and age of bias reporting is unrealistic and extremely dangerous. Please don't take that to mean I am calling you bias, but I do not know you or your reporting whatsoever, so I would come down on the side of caution, and that would be not giving you the information right away or in raw format.

Also, I think it is extremely unfair to even insinuate that an agency is running around willy nilly killing animals for no reason. Does that sound like something a reasonable person would do? No it does not. Granted weird people work in all organizations, but before coming to that conclusion I would want a good amount of supporting evidence.

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Avatar for user 'GandT'

GandT | July 13, 2012 at 1:04 p.m. ― 4 years, 8 months ago

Fiscal Considerations regarding the Plaza de Panama Project:

* The Proposed Plaza de Panama Project provides not enough “bang for the buck”.The estimated cost of $45M (and growing) is too much to pay for too little… introducing paid parking into the park for the first time and only 270-odd new parking spaces for all that?

* The core of Balboa Park can be pedestrianized for far less money by simply closing the Cabrillo Bridge to traffic. More on this later.

* The Proposed Plaza de Panama Project removes existing, already paid for infrastructure (550 odd parking spaces and two restrooms) and replaces it with similar but relocated infrastructure for which funds must now be raised, with the burden placed on taxpayers.

* The Proposed new expensive infrastructure will add to an already large structural deficit in maintenance funding for the park. There is no guarantee that the revenue for maintenance will be forthcoming from the paid parking structure, leaving taxpayers on the hook for this as well.

* The Proposed Plaza de Panama Project introduces parking fees to Balboa Park in a fiscally unsustainable way. The Pay-to Park Organ Pavilion parking garage that will create significant impacts to the surrounding no-fee parking lots, and will likely lead to paid parking through the park, impeding equitable access to the “People’s Park” for the average citizen of San Diego, as well as causing a hardship to volunteers and employees in the Park’s institutions. See letter from the San Diego Zoo, indicating that they will exercise their right under their lease to institute paid parking in their lots if Balboa Park introduces paid parking.

* The City’s own Independent Budget Analyst’s report deems it unlikely that the parking structure be able to sustain such an occupancy level while other free parking remains in the park (which is most of the time during the week. The Park’s parking lots only fill up on weekends and special event days). An expensive empty parking garage will increase pressure to make all parking in the park “pay-to-park” in order to fill the garage and pay off its bonds. - link to IBA report

* The Proposed Plaza de Panama Project creates substantial general fund liabilities for City taxpayers to repay the parking garage bonds when (not “if”) the project’s projected parking garage occupancy levels of 77% cannot be sustained. The project requires a $14M bond, for which the taxpayers of the City of San Diego are on the hook. See IBA report.

* There will be a substantial amount of intrusive construction in and around Balboa Park during the 2 year construction phase of this project. This cannot but impact the visitor experience to the park and could lead to a loss of tourist dollars and a reductions in Museum and event attendance.

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Avatar for user 'Pat Finn'

Pat Finn, KPBS Staff | July 13, 2012 at 2:40 p.m. ― 4 years, 8 months ago

Abe, I believe the point Rob Davis was making on the Roundtable was that we have no idea why or how Wildlife Services is killing animals in San Diego's backcountry because the agency refuses to release the information. It is a federal agency and has an obligation to release requested information about the job it is doing for us. Rob asked for the entire database when no other information was forthcoming.

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Avatar for user 'GandT'

GandT | July 13, 2012 at 3:35 p.m. ― 4 years, 8 months ago

If you too are disappointed in our City Council for approving the Plaza de Panama Bypass Bridge project, you can help overturn their decision by supporting SOHO:

Save Our Heritage Organization (SOHO) - donate to SOHO here

Here are some links to help you understand why opponents of this project are so upset:

NY Times Article: "Surprised taxpayers are paying for bonds they did not vote on"

Independent Budget Analyst (IBA) Reports on the Plaza de Panama Parking Structure:

July 2011:

July 2012:

Good Article that explains the Legal issues after the City Council Vote:

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Avatar for user 'TycheSD'

TycheSD | July 13, 2012 at 5:15 p.m. ― 4 years, 8 months ago

Peggy Pico by her demeanor and what she said seemed determined to minimize the validity and the strength of the opposition to the Jacobs plan for Balboa Park. She seemed to want to focus on the performance of Bob Filner at the City Council hearing. Of course, she got her disclaimer in there that the station was a recipient of Jacobs donations (what entity in this town is not a recipient??). But she clearly was biased. Toward the end of the segment, she pressed Roger Showley to validate her belief that once construction started, the opposition would just fall in line and accept the alteration of the Park. But it was funny that Showley didn't disagree with her, and said that eventually people would accept it, but it would take 10 years to happen!!!

This opposition is not going to go away until the Jacobs plan is dropped. I'm sure the lawyer representing the opposition will file for a restraining order to prevent work from going forward until the case works its way through the legal system.

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Avatar for user 'nikkineel'

nikkineel | July 13, 2012 at 8:04 p.m. ― 4 years, 8 months ago

very disappointing KPBS but I guess we should not be shocked considering the amount of money you guys get from Jacobs. So much for "public radio"

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Avatar for user 'nikkineel'

nikkineel | July 13, 2012 at 8:08 p.m. ― 4 years, 8 months ago

too bad there is a Jacobs media monopoly here in SD keeping people from learning the truth. if you care about Balboa park and losing it to special interests give money to SOHO for the lawsuit to save the park!!

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Avatar for user 'gregoryagogo'

gregoryagogo | July 13, 2012 at 8:41 p.m. ― 4 years, 8 months ago



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Avatar for user 'Hardcover'

Hardcover | July 13, 2012 at 10:24 p.m. ― 4 years, 8 months ago

I'm never going to "accept" the Jacobs plan, even if it does get started or gets built. I still don't accept the Federal government condemning land for the hospital expansion, the garbage dump at Florida Canyon, or the demolition of the Expo buildings for the Timken and the Art Museum expansion. Historians don't forget. This is one in a long list of bad plans that will be defeated like the 163 widening, demolition of the Ford Building, and the Switzer Canyon freeway.

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Avatar for user 'bugguy'

bugguy | July 14, 2012 at 3:03 a.m. ― 4 years, 8 months ago

@ Patt Finn
Rob said himself that wildlife services sent him the data he ask for, the numbers of wildlife killed and the damage caused. There is your why. It sounds like he got everything he asked for to me. Asking for access to the database is laughable and I think Rob was more offended by them laughing at him than why the animals are killed. He also did not mention that most of the birds killed in San Diego are to protect planes at airports, but I'm sure that slipped his mind.

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Avatar for user 'laplayaheritage'

laplayaheritage | July 14, 2012 at 3:14 a.m. ― 4 years, 8 months ago

No public money for a parking structure, until all the Homeless are housed. Priorities people. Stand down started today for Homeless Veterans just south of Balboa Park.

Agreed Ms. Pico seemed to be coached by Mayor Sanders’ newspeople, and was dismissive of the opposition, including Congressman Bob Filner. Bob Filner was Deputy Mayor of the City of San Diego, and the Council person for Balboa Park and downtown at the time the Master Plan and Precise Plan were approved, and guaranteed public financed for the parking and circulation improvements was allocated through our Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT). Subsequent to Bob leaving for Washington in 1992, Mayor Susan Golding redirected guaranteed TOT funds to build Petco Park in downtown CCDC RDA instead. When Bob left for Congress there were both CEQA-approved plans consist with the Secretary of the Interior Standards, and dedicated public funding for construction of parking structures and circulations strategies. All with the goal to keep parking free in the People's Park.

Mayor Jerry Sanders set the unfortunate tone for the public hearing by announcing detractors to the privately funded Bypass Centennial Bridge, and taxpayer financed paid parking structure have intimidated future and current civic philanthropists from giving money to our poor and broke city. For example, they “been subjected to some of the most vile and idiotic comments imaginable.”

Please see Video start time 8 minutes 20 seconds.

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Avatar for user 'Suzanne Marmion'

Suzanne Marmion, KPBS Staff | July 16, 2012 at 1:44 p.m. ― 4 years, 8 months ago

TycheSD and nikkineel, thanks for commenting. I want to clarify for all that the Friday segments are part of our "Roundtable" where journalists wrap up the big stories of the week--unlike our regular segments where we have on key players in support and opposition (we have always featured the opponents as well as the supporters of the Jacobs plan in our news coverage). So just to note that this segment falls more in line with an overview and analysis, versus being a debate.
Regarding the claim that KPBS is biased because we receive funding from Irwin Jacobs, I hope you'll see the many, many stories we have done on the Plaza de Panama and take away a sense of balance, where we have featured, at length, arguments for and against. We have a robust firewall between the funding we receive, and our newsroom, because we prize our independence and credibility as being more valuable than anything else, and vital to serving the community above all other interests.

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Avatar for user 'JeanMarc'

JeanMarc | July 16, 2012 at 3:13 p.m. ― 4 years, 8 months ago

laplaya - Housing all the homeless is not a matter of money. Most homeless suffer from severe mental disorders, commonly schizophrenia, and heavy drug and/or alcohol abuse. We cannot kidnap them and force them to rehabilitate themselves and keep them in housing. If they refuse help, and refuse to stop substance abuse, what can we do? If they make no effort to improve their lives, is it still our responsibility to do so? We can make help available, but we can't force anyone to accept it...

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