skip to main content









Donation Heart Ribbon

National Park Service Says Balboa Park Plan Could Risk Historical Designation

Above: An aerial view of the proposed Plaza de Panama project slated to begin this year and be completed by the 2015 Centennial of Balboa Park.

In a letter to the city of San Diego, the National Park Service says plans to alter Balboa Park’s Cabrillo Bridge to keep cars out of the Plaza de Panama could put the park’s historical designation at risk.

Aired 5/11/12 on KPBS News.

In a letter to the city of San Diego, the National Park Service says plans to alter Balboa Park’s Cabrillo Bridge to keep cars out of the Plaza de Panama could put the park’s historical designation at risk.


Letter from National Park Service

Letter from National Park Service

Letter from the National Park Service to City Councilman Kevin Faulconer.

Download document

Download Acrobat Reader

The letter says the plan, which also includes building a parking structure and rerouting traffic through the park, is inconsistent with the standard of treatment for historic properties.

The National Park Service began looking into the project at the request of California’s State Historic Preservation Officer.

That official also said major changes to the park will cause it to lose its Historic Landmark Designation and possibly future funding opportunities.

Qualcomm founder and billionaire philanthropist Irwin Jacobs originally proposed plans to make over Balboa Park for its 2015 centennial celebration. Mayor Jerry Sanders backs the plan.

But a local preservationist group has sued to stop the project. San Diego's Superior Court concurred with the Save Our Heritage Organisation that an agreement the city signed with Jacobs was illegal.

SOHO director Bruce Coons told KPBS in February that the park losing its Historic Landmark status would be a huge blow to tourism and the park's ability to garner federal, state and local grants.

But Mark Johnson, the founder of Civitas, Inc., and the designer for the Plaza de Panama project, said then that he is not worried about losing the park's historic status.

"We think the improvements we are making are a great benefit, on balance and an extremely positive thing for the park that will enhance the historic district," he said.

Full disclosure: Irwin Jacobs is a major contributor to KPBS.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.


Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | May 10, 2012 at 6:07 p.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

Is it really that hard to eliminate cars from the square **and** avoid building an intrusive road and parking garage?

Far be it to actually make people do this thing we call **WALKING**.

The ideal would be some sort mass transit that drops people off outside the park, then they walk in. Provide a shuttle into the park strictly for the elderly and handicapped **only**.

That way, tourists staying downtown and residents from other areas of the city could visit the park and the zoo without binging in cars.

However, SANDAG is inept, backwards, car-centric, and thinks putting far-flung trolley lines to the border make more sense than a line up the hill from downtown to balboa park.

So, without reliance on the dinosaur-era transit planning we have in SD, my next proposal is simply to seal off balboa park to cars, build a parking garage **outside** the park but nearby, and have a shuttle that drops people of at the entrance (not inside the park).

As mentioned before, a shuttle that goes ino the park only for elderly or handicapped.

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'starfish'

starfish | May 11, 2012 at 7:27 a.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

Mark Johnson must need new pair of glasses. The National Park Service letter is clearly loaded with compelling reasons why his project will ruin the National Landmark.

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'Derek'

Derek | May 11, 2012 at 4:17 p.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

We don't even need a parking garage outside the park. We could simply eliminate any parking spaces we don't want, and then use modern parking demand management to prevent parking shortages.

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'JayeMac'

JayeMac | May 14, 2012 at 3:37 p.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

It's great to see KPBS giving some coverage to this major issue -- one of the biggest ever controversies regarding historic preservation in San Diego. Overall, KPBS' usually reliable voice and critical perspective has been conspiculously absent during the last nearly two years of public debate over whether to substantially, permanently, and probably also unnecessarily alter historic Balboa Park, or not to. Ever since the "Joan and Irwin Jacobs Fund For Reporting Excellence" has become a major force at KPBS, we seem to have lost a vital conduit for news and information pertaining to how our city runs, not just about the ill-conceived Plaza de Panama/ Jacobs Project, but about a number of other questionable deals that Mr. Jacobs and his friend Mayor Jerry Sanders have teamed up in recent years to support. It is no secret that Mr. Jacobs, who claims to be a Democrat, donates money to candidates of all political parties, even when they're running against each other. It is not a stretch to wonder if the extremely generous contribution he and his wife have recently given to KPBS is influencing their coverage of important political matters that involve him like the proposed Plaza de Panama Project, which incidentally, the public has come out to be overwhelmingly oposed to despite the pointed lack of reporting on this key fact.

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | May 14, 2012 at 6:12 p.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

JayeMac, I admit I haven't been following this story for two years, but over the past 6 months I have read about this topic in numerous sources, and I wasn't struck by the KPBS articles being slanted in either direction.

I have heard KPBS disclose their relationship with Jacobs in many of their stories.

I'm not saying you are incorrect, it definitely presents a potential for conflict of interest, but I suppose my standards are lower because I live in San Diego.

Compared to the UT's in your face front page editorials and endorsements that come straight fom their rich, developer/political activist owner and the journalistically inept local TV news stations, KPBS is as objective as you will get in San Diego.

With that said,the media can always be improved and it's p to us as consumers to keep them honest, so thank you for pointing it out. I'm going to pay close attention to future stories on this topic,because I am disappointed with Jacob's stubbornness on this issue.

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'Suzanne Marmion'

Suzanne Marmion, KPBS Staff | May 16, 2012 at 3:14 p.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

( )

Avatar for user 'Suzanne Marmion'

Suzanne Marmion, KPBS Staff | May 16, 2012 at 3:16 p.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

JayeMac, thank you for commenting, and I'm glad that you are interested in the Plaza de Panama discussion. KPBS has covered the ongoing process and debate many times in the past two years, and we strive to include those who support and those who oppose the plan. We do not take a stance as a news organization on what you should think of the plan, but we aim to provide you a great deal of information (see just some of the links and documents included above) and a forum for discussion (see our recent KPBS Midday Edition segments on the topic), so that you can decide.
Regarding funding, we have a firewall between donations and the newsroom. We do not skew our coverage in favor of funders. Funders know they do not dictate our coverage, and we aim to declare openly any perceived conflict of interest, so that we are transparent. This allows our audience to be informed, and to judge our coverage on its merits. If we have missed any stories as you suggest, please let us know and I will follow up. I'm glad you raised these issues, and I hope it helps to clarify our editorial independence.

( | suggest removal )