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San Diego City Council Approves Plaza De Panama Funding

Photo caption:

Photo by Milan Kovacevic

Pictured is the fountain in the center of the Plaza de Panama at Balboa Park, Jan. 15, 2015.

San Diego City Council Approves Plaza De Panama Funding

GUEST:

Roger Showley, reporter, The San Diego Union-Tribune

The San Diego City Council voted 8 to 1 to spend $49 million to close off portions of Balboa Park to car traffic and build an underground parking garage.

Transcript

The San Diego City Council voted 8 to 1 on Monday to spend $49 million to close off portions of Balboa Park to car traffic and build an underground parking garage. City Council President Sherri Lightner was the lone "no" vote on the plan.

The plan to remake the park's Plaza de Panama was originally passed by the council in 2012, but was held up for three years by a lawsuit. After that lawsuit was resolved, Mayor Kevin Faulconer announced this summer he was bringing back the project.

Under the plan, the Plaza de Panama would be shut down to cars. Instead, cars would be re-routed to a new 797-space underground paid parking garage behind the Spreckels Organ Pavilion.

Parking would cost $2 to $8 on weekdays and $3 to $12 on weekends.

The estimated cost of the project has grown since 2012 from $45 million to $78 million. The city would contribute $39 million in the form of a bond — up from $16 million in 2012 — along with $10 million in city funds.

The remaining $30 million would be covered by Balboa Park United, a coalition of park interest groups, as well as Plaza de Panama Committee, which was established by Qualcomm founder Irwin Jacobs when the original plan was proposed. The donors would also pay if construction costs exceed the plan's budget.

The plan includes an option to name parts of the park after donors, including the bypass bridge and a rooftop park. Those names would be approved by the mayor.

At Monday's meeting, Jacobs said the committee aims to raise the funding before a construction contract is signed.

He said the plan would preserve the park’s historic significance and would "reclaim the historic heart of the park."

"We look forward to viewing many families enjoying picnics on green lawn where now there is only a large surface asphalt parking lot," he said. "We expect this beautiful new space will add greatly to the park experience and to the enjoyment of the nearby and wonderful organ concerts."

Bruce Coons, head of the nonprofit Save Our Heritage Organisation that opposes the plan, said he thinks the plan will bring too much disruption to the park and doesn’t preserve its historic nature.

"We just don’t think the project meets any of its stated goals," he said. "For a terrific amount of money can’t see how it makes sense for the museums, for the public, for anybody."

"It’s a bad project and should go back to the drawing board," he added.

City Councilwoman Marti Emerald voted for the plan and said change is part of the park’s history.

"This is an organic ever changing asset for all of us in the city and we need to make some changes as we go," she said.

Some council members expressed concern over the project's increased price tag.

"The cost has increased quite a bit and the risk to the city is larger than it was before," said City Councilman David Alvarez.

"If we could have built this six or seven years ago when the economy was a little bit different," said City Councilman Scott Sherman. "There were more people looking for work in the construction industry so we would have gotten a much better deal on that."

Costs increased in part because of requirements that workers on public projects be paid at a certain rate and new stormwater regulations.

Other public speakers voiced fears that the city's plan to pay back its bond using parking revenues wouldn't pan out. If the city doesn't make enough money from the parking garage, the extra loan payments would be covered by the general fund.

Construction on the project is expected to begin in September 2017 and be finished at the end of 2019.

Disclosure: Irwin Jacobs is a major funder of KPBS.

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