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Committee Requests Audit Of Balboa Park Celebration Organization

The Lily Pond sits in front of the Botanical Building at Balboa Park on August 2, 2008 in San Diego, California.

Photo by Stephen Dunn

Getty Images

Above: The Lily Pond sits in front of the Botanical Building at Balboa Park on August 2, 2008 in San Diego, California.

The San Diego City Council's Environment Committee unanimously called Wednesday for financial and performance audits of a disbanding group that had been putting together a yearlong celebration of Balboa Park's centennial.

The panel also asked for a confidential report from the City Attorney's Office on legal options to recover money that has been spent, and to determine whether the city faces potential liabilities.

The Balboa Park Celebration Inc. Board of Directors voted March 4 to turn over responsibility for the event to the city, leading to questions of how $2.6 million dollars was spent, and what the city got in return.

Special Feature Balboa Park Centennial Committee Members Apologize For Failure

The committee in charge of planning a yearlong party in 2015 at Balboa Park spent $2.6 million that came from taxpayers, and now the group is out of business. KPBS interviewed committee members, museum leaders and community members to find out what went wrong.

BPCI went through three CEOs and a couple of program producers in three years.

"The city spent some money and there needs to be some, certainly, some explanations,'' City Attorney Jan Goldsmith told the committee members.

He said city lawyers are negotiating the termination of two deals with BPCI — a memorandum of understanding and a funding agreement.

Goldsmith and Gerry Braun, who is handing the disbanding of the organization, noted that the group is made up of community volunteers with a long history of helping San Diego who are "distraught'' at their inability to present a celebration that would generate international attention, as first envisioned.

The board members realized at various times that fundraising to put on such an event was falling short, Braun said. He said it would have taken $35 million or more to achieve the "ambitious'' scale desired by the planners and city officials.

Mike Hansen, Mayor Kevin Faulconer's representative to the committee, said an announcement would likely be made soon on a scaled-down observance of the park's 100th birthday. City Council President Todd Gloria made a similar remark at a news briefing earlier Wednesday.

Councilman Scott Sherman said the problems faced by BPCI appeared to come down to "a bad plan from the beginning'' and poor management.

"Quite frankly, doing the armchair quarterback thing, I really think trying to appeal on the scope that we were trying to appeal for the Balboa Park centennial was a little over-reaching,'' Sherman said. "I remember sitting down and thinking, you know, if it was the 200th anniversary of Central Park in New York, would I get on an airplane and fly to New York to go see it? Probably not.''

A "San Diego-specific'' celebration could still be "a real nice event without enormous cost,'' the councilman said.

Braun said numerous documents regarding BPCI finances and contracts have been placed online. The rest should be released within one month, he said.

Around $273,000 of city funds remained in BPCI accounts and was unlikely to be spent, according to Braun. The group also still holds some money from private donations.

He was asked to return to the committee April 23 with an update.

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Avatar for user 'Mmikey'

Mmikey | March 27, 2014 at 7:41 a.m. ― 3 years ago

good timing, now that they had lots of time to destroy and/or falsify records.

an honorable person(s) would return the money.

how much more will be wasted looking into this farce ?

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Avatar for user 'thompsonrichard'

thompsonrichard | March 27, 2014 at 10:13 a.m. ― 3 years ago

Mike McDowell, who has been heading the planning effort for Balboa Park's yearlong celebration of its 1915 exposition, was only "on loan" from the Lodging Industry Association. "Recent events require a recommitted effort on my part to ensure the near-term survival and long-term health of the hospitality industry," he said (Feb. 19, 2013, UT).

Irwin Jacobs was on UCSD Chancellor Pradeep Khosla's search committee. He paid millions to refurbish the Chancellor's mansion with its 20 private parking spaces. Jacobs offered $44 million for a parking structure in Balboa Park. Consistently, the Zoo has lobbied for more parking. There was to be a parking lot in Florida Canyon to the east of the current parking lot. The people rose in anger. Then the War Memorial building / lawn was to become a parking lot. Same reaction. Then Jacobs came to the rescue. But he, too, was rebuffed. Donor Darlene Shiley said: “When you have someone as well respected as Irwin leading a project like this and you slam dunk him, that doesn’t bode well for future projects,” she said.

Initially, UCSD was to have been located in Balboa Park.

Bob Filner eliminated parking in the central square of the park. But the dragon-slayer himself was slain.

We did get Peggy Shannon Day. (Great-grandmother Shannon accused Mayor Bob Filner of sexual harassment).

Obviously, the kiosks in Balboa Park with names of philanthropists starting with Richard C. and Rita Atkinson aren't meant to be associated in the public mind with perpetuating the legacy of the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition -- access to open space, gardens, celebration of our heritage, naval history, a reduced entry fee to the zoo for children in 2015 (as stressed in Ellen Browning Scripps' behests). It's about donor fatigue, sure. But mostly it about hoteliers who wanted a 39-year tax regime and who ousted a populist mayor to get it.

Scott Sherman -- I watched a 10+ hour history of New York City recently at the Arts Library at UCSD. Certainly Central Park in New York City was an integral part since before the Civil War, vying with the Erie Canal and Brooklyn Bridge in importance. Even if you're the stay-at-home type of council member, the opening of the Panama Canal which coincided with the first rumblings of The Great War brought huge changes to San Diego. Both parks were designed by the Olmsteads, although Balboa park at 1200 acres is larger than Central Park at 843 acres. Ever think why San Francisco was selected at the site for the signing of the Treaty with Japan? The Pan-Pacific Expo was of premier importance for both harbor cities.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | March 27, 2014 at 10:43 a.m. ― 3 years ago

Obtain the mails!!

The city emails!!

Why did the city try pulling a fast one by trying to enact a policy to DESTROY ALL CITY EMAILS after one year (luckily Faulconner reversed this when pressured by the public)??

Coincidence that they tried pulling this right before this scandal occurred?


But let's make sure.

Go through those communications with a fine toothed comb.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | March 27, 2014 at 10:49 a.m. ― 3 years ago

A "San Diego-specific'' celebration could still be "a real nice event without enormous cost,'' the councilman said.


What does this even mean?

A "San Diego-specific" event?

What else would it be?

A celebration of Paris or Bangkok?

Is he saying we should discourage non-San Diegans from coming??

The Expo held 100 years ago brought the world to San Diego, so now, 100 years later, we are telling the world stay away, our CowTown isn't worth your time?!

Seriously, each day another story on this charade hits the media, city officials top themselves with their stupidity.

This even needs to be CALLED-OFF.

It's a missed opportunity.

The current city leadership is too incompetent and backwards to pull of anything of substance.

They will only embarrass our city further.

Let's try again in another 100 years, perhaps by then we won't have draconian incompetents running the city and county of San Diego, California, USA.

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