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Planning Commission Approves Plaza De Panama

— The Plaza de Panama project has the support of Mayor Jerry Sanders and philanthropist Irwin Jacobs, and now it also has the support of the San Diego Planning Commission. The next step is City Council approval.

The San Diego Planning Commission has unanimously approved a controversial plan to remove cars from the heart of Balboa Park.

The plaza plan would remove all parking and car traffic from the heart of Balboa Park, and nearly everyone wants to remove the parking lot that breaks up the park's "Prado." But many park lovers oppose the project, especially the large bypass bridge that would take cars off of Cabrillo Bridge, which crosses route 163.

Bruce Coons, with the Save Our Heritage Organization, said the project would visually damage Balboa Park and endanger its historic designation.

"This is something I think we will regret the rest of our lives," he said, "and future generations would say, 'What were we thinking about?'"

But members of the planning commission decided the plan balanced the needs to accommodate cars, while making the center of the park car-free. The project would route car traffic from the Cabrillo Bridge toward an underground parking garage, behind the Spreckels Organ Pavilion. Plaza de Panama designer, Mark Johnson, said the plan will win back the park for pedestrians.

"It is a significant project. There's no question about it," he said. "But we also have a significant problem in the park, and you can't fix a problem of the scale that we have with tiny solutions."

Irwin Jacobs said the Balboa Park project would cost more than $40 million, to be raised through donations. The plan now goes before the City Council, whose members have been skeptical. One council member told me if you want to ban parking in center of the park, just put up a no-parking sign.

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