Complications Persist For Plaza De Panama Project
Thursday, May 17, 2012
Aired 5/17/12 on KPBS Midday Edition.
Welton Jones, member, Balboa park Committee of 100
David Marshall, the city of San Diego's preservation consultant for the Plaza de Panama project
Letter from National Park Service
Response to National Park Service Letter
A letter to the city of San Diego from the National Park Service says the plan to remove cars from the center of Balboa Park could put the park's designation as a national historical landmark at risk. But supporters of the Plaza de Panama plan say the letter is nothing more than a scare tactic.
David Marshall, the city's preservation consultant for the project, told KPBS the National Park Service's letter does not directly say the park could lose its historic landmark status. He added the city confirmed with the National Parks that this scenario was not realistic.
"The said they felt if it was an issue or a concern, it would have been in the letter," he said. "It was intentionally not in the letter. So my problem with the scare tactics is it's the gap between the reality of the letter and how the opponents are using the letter and interpreting the letter for their benefit."
The plan calls for closing the Cabrillo Bridge to cars and instead diverting traffic around the back of the Museum of Man on a to-be-constructed bridge. The plan would also build an underground parking lot in the middle of the park.
Welton Jones, a member of the Committee of 100, one of the groups that oppose the plan, said the car-traffic bridge and parking lot "commit you to allowing cars to continue to come in."
He said the better solution is to add more public transportation to bring visitors into the park from parking areas outside.
"That's the plan that needs to be pursued, not taking on roads here and digging underground parking there, because, in my opinion, those things are going to be obsolete almost immediately when we have to get all the cars out of the park," he said.
Loss of national historic landmark status would mean the park would no longer be included in certain tourist brochures and would would not be eligible for some grants.
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 and an Environmental Impact Report on the project has been released.
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.