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Jacobs On Plaza De Panama Plan: ‘It’s Over’

Evening Edition

Bruce Coons, the founder of the Save Our Heritage Organisation, talks to KPBS about his lawsuit against the city over the Plaza de Panama plan for Balboa Park.

Aired 2/5/13 on KPBS Midday Edition.


Dr. Irwin Jacobs, Founder of Qualcomm and Director and Chairman of the Plaza de Panama Committee

Bruce Coons, Founder, Save Our Heritage Organisation


A San Diego Superior Court judge has affirmed his tentative ruling that the city of San Diego violated its own municipal code when approving a plan to remove cars from Balboa Park.

Rendering of the proposed Plaza de Panama Project
Enlarge this image

Above: Rendering of the proposed Plaza de Panama Project

Judge Timothy Taylor issued his final ruling on the Plaza de Panama project Monday after listening to oral arguments on Friday.

Project sponsor Irwin Jacobs told KPBS Midday Edition the judge's ruling ends his involvement in the project.

"I’m very sorry that I won't - in my lifetime- get to watch children playing in the Plaze de Panama," he said.

Jacobs said he has not seen any alternative plans that meet his requirements for support: removing cars from Plaza de Panama but still serving the needs of museums and other institutions inside Balboa Park.

"At this point, it's over," he said.

But Bruce Coons, the director of the Save Our Heritage Organisation that had sued to stop the project, said he believes the judge’s ruling opens the door to other ways of getting cars out of the Plaza.

"There are a lot of other ways to accomplish this," Coons said. "It will get accomplished - we will get the parking out of the Plaze de Panama. We’re looking forward to leadership from Mayor Filner on this, and he’s talked about a number of different ways to do it. But if nothing else happens, we’re going to close the bridge in a few months for retrofitting, so we’ll be able to try that."

However the city is unlikely to have the budget to undertake major changes before the park's 2015 centennial celebration.

Under San Diego’s municipal code, the city cannot touch an historic structure unless it’s ruled to have no reasonable beneficial use. The City Council made that determination regarding Plaza de Panama when it voted to approve a renovation in the area that closes the plaza to vehicles.

But since the plan involved removing a section of the historic Cabrillo Bridge, SOHO sued, saying the plaza does serve a reasonable use as a parking lot. In a tentative ruling issued last week, Taylor agreed with SOHO and blocked the project. Taylor said while the parking lot may not be desirable, it is a reasonable use.

"The court can take judicial notice that parking lots around the city are revenue-generating enterprises," he wrote in his ruling, "and the fact that the project contemplates the construction of two multi-level parking lots proves the point."

The City Attorney's office said in a statement they are "pleased" the judge’s ruling upheld San Diego's California Environmental Quality Act process and "the proper vetting" of the Environment Impact Report.

"We are carefully reviewing the judge’s interpretation of the city’s ordinance at issue and will be discussing options with our client," the statement said. "At this point, we are not prepared to announce a course of action but we expect to do so in the near future."

During a "Pen and Paper" session with reporters on Wednesday, Mayor Bob Filner said it’s his understanding SOHO and project sponsor Irwin Jacobs were in mediation talks a while ago.

"I don’t know where everybody will be after the hearing," he said. "I would like to see the mediation."

Megan Burke, Maureen Cavanaugh and Amita Sharma contributed to this report.

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Avatar for user 'RegularChristian'

RegularChristian | February 5, 2013 at 7:46 a.m. ― 4 years ago

I love Balboa Park. The more access for the general public the better.

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Avatar for user 'JeanMarc'

JeanMarc | February 5, 2013 at 8:30 a.m. ― 4 years ago

Thank goodness. The judge was right on this. We don't need to be making huge structural changes to Balboa Park.

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Avatar for user 'Really123'

Really123 | February 5, 2013 at 12:35 p.m. ― 4 years ago

Did they really think a splash park for children in Plaza de Panama was an improvement? Instead of making it a plaza for all to use they made it a plaza that only small children would use? Way to go Mr. Jacobs. Please stick to high tech.

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Avatar for user 'JeanMarc'

JeanMarc | February 5, 2013 at 2:33 p.m. ― 4 years ago

Really123 maybe he thinks everyone would want to roll around in the water like children or something... ha ha

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Avatar for user 'bkeah'

bkeah | February 5, 2013 at 4:47 p.m. ― 4 years ago

The judge only blocked it on technicality, he actually supported project. Because of Jacob's high tech success San Diego has benefited greatly economically and civicly!

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Avatar for user 'gregoryagogo'

gregoryagogo | February 5, 2013 at 5:12 p.m. ― 4 years ago


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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | February 5, 2013 at 5:40 p.m. ― 4 years ago

Why not just close the bridge to traffic and remove the tiny parking lot? Problem solved with no structural change and Jacobs can watch children playing in the plaza by this summer.

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Avatar for user 'GYounger'

GYounger | February 5, 2013 at 7:17 p.m. ― 4 years ago

Ironic that in winning that parking was deemed a "reasonable use" of the space. That may become a double edged sword and hamper the ability to change the historic use of the plaza. Driving and/or parking in the plaza may be locked in. If so, this becomes the deadly Unintended Consequence.

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Avatar for user 'BEEn_S'

BEEn_S | February 5, 2013 at 7:18 p.m. ― 4 years ago

SOHO is ruining the progress of our city and the voice of our people. If you agree cars in the Plaza are a travesty, why stop the only viable project to come about in the past 75 years? Why not compromise? Jacobs is right, he should have started with a left turn proposal for "you people". So strange that you declare shutting down the bridge for retrofitting as a victory. STOP SOHO, they are RUINING OUR CITY!

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Avatar for user 'Hardcover'

Hardcover | February 5, 2013 at 8:03 p.m. ― 4 years ago

The bridge railing retrofit is being done by CALTRANS, and would be done if the project were being done or not. It is good news in that at least one aspect of the Park is being maintained for safety. Also: CALTRANS objections to the Jacobs plan has been infrequently mentioned, but it would have been another problem with getting the project done besides the "technicality" (ie law). As much ad you might dislike SOHO, they are just one group that had the nerve and finances to pull this off, many other groups were against this, but often didn't want to loose Jacobs' funding for their projects or campaigns. Only groups like SOHO and the World Beat Center that weren't going to get anything from him anyway were able to be public about it.

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Avatar for user 'MWilliams'

MWilliams | February 5, 2013 at 8:52 p.m. ― 4 years ago

The drive up Laurel Street, across the majestic Cabrillo Bridge, past the spectacular California Tower and into the heart of Balboa Park has got to be one of the grandest entrances to a public park anywhere in the world! "Just close the bridge"?? The idea is to preserve and augment the ability to enjoy our civic jewel, not to create impediments for it's access. I remain confused as to why people are so impassioned to preserve the 100 year old history of Plaza de Panama at the expense of the 100 year history of the Cabrillo Bridge?

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Avatar for user 'Oceanside'

Oceanside | February 5, 2013 at 10:03 p.m. ― 4 years ago

The plan to tack on the bypass bridge seemed rushed with no effort to make it consistent aesthetically with the architecture of the park. At least one of the renderings I saw showed something you might see at an interchange on the I-8. Please, do better in Balboa Park.

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Avatar for user 'Dothscribble'

Dothscribble | February 6, 2013 at 9:10 a.m. ― 4 years ago

MWilliams says it best.

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | February 6, 2013 at 1:31 p.m. ― 4 years ago

Why does everything have to be drive thru? Balboa Park wasn't designed to be experienced through a windshield. Create more parking off 6th Ave and people could walk across the bridge taking in the sights without any distractions.

Ultimately SOHO ruined future improvement efforts by declaring parking a "reasonable use" for the plaza.

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Avatar for user 'BEEn_S'

BEEn_S | February 6, 2013 at 2:31 p.m. ― 4 years ago

Hardcover -

I understand why the bridge is being temporarily closed, so please explain why SOHO would consider this an achievement in their blockade of a permanent solution? Rather than work for a compromise. There is a lot more to this than you understand- relocating Earth Day for 1 season (during construction) could have led to a permanent solution, a pedestrian village, and the most incredible park, Centenial, and Earth Day celebrations for years to come. I don't care about your politics, I care about progress. I care about kicking the cars out of Balboa Park. I care about making San Diego better. You disagree with any of this?

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Avatar for user 'twells'

twells | February 6, 2013 at 3:55 p.m. ― 4 years ago

SOHO should stop claiming they represent the majority of the residents. Very vocal opponents showing up at every meeting does not constitute the majority opposing the project. Our elected officials represent us and voted for the project. Groups like SOHO are holding us back. Winning on a technicality to stop a well-thought out plan is not a victory for us all. Perhaps if they put up the money,m then I would respect their opinion more, but they only say no to anything that might improve the park.

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Avatar for user 'psmaps'

psmaps | February 7, 2013 at 9:40 a.m. ― 4 years ago

amen..SOHO has acquired a serious case of hubris

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Avatar for user 'Hardcover'

Hardcover | February 11, 2013 at 11:42 a.m. ― 4 years ago

I certainly find fault in you assumption that the Earth Day would have only been affected for one year. There would have been 2 years of construction, and a third year that the Cenntenial Committe had the right to not have any event in the Park that they didn't want ( including Earth Day and December Nights). As far as I could see, the soonest that Earth Day would be back in the normal location would be 2016. And you assumptions that there is a lot that you know about this project and, in fact, the Park in general is based purely on wishful thinking and with no factual basis whatsoever.

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Avatar for user 'dorndiego'

dorndiego | February 13, 2013 at 8:15 a.m. ― 4 years ago

Park Boulevard IS the main access to Balboa Park now, and has been ever since the city so renamed 11th St. north of City College. A parking garage in the zoo parking lot, part of it underground, would make sense. Or a garage downhill on the east side of the boulevard, near the two Navy Hospital grounds also makes sense. Either parking lot could bring people the fountain and Imax theater by way of small trams.
Cabrillo Bridge is a monument, a piece of historical architecture that people can walk across now. It should be used by emergency and park vehicles and pedestrians, only.

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Avatar for user 'rrichardscot'

rrichardscot | February 19, 2013 at 6:14 p.m. ― 4 years ago

What has been overlooked is that SOHO agrees with the main concern that is removing parking from the Plaza de Panama. That conforms to the long studied Master and Precise Plans and would not add the three unneeded structures (bypass bridge, connecting road and parking garage) to the $240 million dollars of maintenance in arrears in the park. Sadly the parks museums overlooked the marketing value of tourists and tourist buses being able to preview the Plazas. The IBA's report pointed out the flaws in the revenue from the proposed parking garage and the impacts it would have on our public services General Fund. The council members could each donate a small amount from their district funds to remove the parking from the Plaza de Panama.

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Avatar for user 'rrichardscot'

rrichardscot | March 12, 2013 at 9:48 p.m. ― 3 years, 11 months ago

Twells is obviously out of touch with reality. SOHO only represents part of the majority of the public that opposed the Plaza de Panama project. The project was fiscally irresponsible and historically destructive. At all of the Balboa Park Committee meetings over 80 percent of the attendees opposed the project.

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