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Roundtable: Balboa Park Plan Is Still Alive

Anyone who has spent time in Balboa Park would have to agree that a plan to remove the cars from the Plaza de Panama is a great idea. The matter comes before city council for a vote next week so now is a good time to review the issues.

Anyone who has spent time in Balboa Park would have to agree that a plan to remove the cars from the Plaza de Panama is a great idea. Unfortunately it's not that simple. The $40 million dollar plan on the table proposed by philanthropist Irwin Jacobs and supported by Mayor Jerry sanders is adamantly opposed by historical preservationists and also many other Balboa Park lovers. The matter comes before city council for a vote next week so now is a good time to review the issues.

Guests: Dean Calbreath, economics reporter, San Diego Union Tribune

Kyla Calvert, education reporter, KPBS News

David Rolland, editor, San Diego CityBeat

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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

ST. JOHN: We have with us David Rolland, editor of San Diego City beat, Dean Calbreath, economics reporter for the Union Tribune, and Kyla Calvert, who is the KPBS education property. Anyone who has spent time in Balboa Park, and that's most of us, would have to agree that a plan to remove the cars from the plaza de Panama is a great idea. Unfortunately it's not that simple. The $40†million plan on the table, proposed by Erwin Jacobs and supported by mayor Jerry Sanders, is adamantly opposed by historical preservations, and some other Balboa Park lovers who also have questions. It will come before the vote of the City Council next week. And we want to know what you think, what needs to be done? What needs to happen to get the park ready for its big anniversary? Do you object to the Jacobs' plan? What ideas do you have? David, fill us in. What is this plan on the table?

ROLLAND: Well, as you say, almost everybody agrees that the idea -- this goes back a long time, this idea to get rid of parking and traffic from Plaza de Panama, that idea goes back a while. It's in front of the San Diego museum are of art, board order on the east by the prado restaurant, and on the west by the min gay museum. It's the turn around where that fountain I don't think is functioning. And over the Cabrillo bridge to --

ST. JOHN: Right into the plaza.

ROLLAND: Then they turn right down to the parking rots south of the O began pavilion. So everybody seems to like that idea. But the problem is then, you have some of the institutions inside the park saying, well, wait a minute. We need people to be able to park. They want more parking, and they also want --

ST. JOHN: Doesn't this plan provide more park something.

ROLLAND: Yeah. That's what I was gonna get to. The more controversial part of the plan was as you come east over the Cabrillo bridge, you would make a hard right turn before the historic arch way, and they would build a pretty big ramp, bridge, that curves around south of the museum of man, sort of into an existing parking lot there, and then it would go from there toward a new -- I think three level parking structure that would largely be subterranean just south of the organ pavilion.

ST. JOHN: Full disclosure, you've just written an editorial saying --

ROLLAND: I don't love the idea. I love the idea of taking cars out of the plaza, but I'd love to see it go farther. I'd like to see a study or experiment with closing the bridge.

CAVANAUGH: And not doing the parking lot, not doing any of these diversions. Would that create more parking?

ROLLAND: No. It wouldn't create more parking. There will be a little more pressure on the parking lots. And I think that's why some of the institutions in Balboa Park wouldn't like it. But there have been other ideas for places to put more parking. Like inspiration point down to the south. And also I think there was a plan -- I think, I could be wrong, somebody can correct me, I think there's in the Balboa Park master plan, I think it does call for a parking structure along park boulevard to the east. So I would -- I would move more toward removing cars even more from the interior of the park. This doesn't -- this removes them from that plaza, but it doesn't remove them -- it sort of encourages more use of the interior of the park. I would prefer -- and this is just me, I would prefer routing traffic and parking along the perimeter of the park to make the entire interior of the park more of a pedestrian experience.

ST. JOHN: Okay. And one of the objections, I believe is from Bruce coons, who is very concerned about the historical bridge that leads into that plaza, and how the plan proposed by Erwin Jacobs would block off a view of the museum of man, and sort of change the historic entranceway to the park. Kyla, what do you think about this debate? Do you think it's time to stop clinging to the past and do something new? What do you think about the controversy?

CALVERT: I -- I have to admit to not full plea understanding why it's so controversial.

ST. JOHN: Interesting.

CALVERT: I looked at the renderings for the changed view with the off-ramp from the bridge, and it looks to me like there are -- there are fewer trees there, but it seems to me that the middle. The park is pretty congested, parking in the -- parking to get to things in the park can be a problem. So to have all that money on the table from E win Jacobs, it seems pretty enticing to me, personally.

ST. JOHN: Okay. Well, do you think it's churlish to be turning down or even questioning a proposal from someone who is offering almost $40†million to contribute to this? Dean, as the city can't afford a lot of projects it would like to do, we're turning more to private generosity.

CALBREATH: Yeah, I don't think it's -- excuse me. Churlish it talk about it, to talk about other alternatives, and to discuss other alternatives. I think that I -- as a matter of esthetics, my personal preference would be maybe to close down the bridge to autos, to have civilian -- pedestrian. But that's just a personal view on my part. I just think that would be nice to have more discussion and a little bit more alternatives presented. And then let people decide.

ST. JOHN: 1-888-895-5727 is our number. And Sarina from Mission Hills is on the line. Thanks for joining us. Go ahead.

NEW SPEAKER: Good afternoon. Thank you for taking my call. A couple of you already -- have taken the wind out of my sails. I completely agree with David. And --

ST. JOHN: In what way?

NEW SPEAKER: My concern here is the rush to do this. I don't care if it's Erwin Jacobs' $40†million. The bypass would put in my opinion a black mark on the historical fabric of Balboa Park. I don't think it's necessary. There are plenty of ways to provide parking on the perimeter of the park. The City of San Diego already subsidizes like a molly trolley, the Balboa Park shuttle, that makes an eight-minute loop from park boulevard through the park. That can be extended across the bridge to accommodate folks that are parking over on the sixth avenue side. Yes, take the parking out of the park. But there are other ways to approach this. And my concern is that everybody is focusing on just the autos in the plaza. They're not focusing on the cons of the bypass. And there are so many of them.

ST. JOHN: Okay.

NEW SPEAKER: I don't want this to be the Erwin Jacobs --

ST. JOHN: Perhaps you can clarify for us what the cons of that bypass -- off the bridge and down the side to the parking lot. What are the cons?

NEW SPEAKER: One of the cons would be more grid lock. It's an ingress and egress according to so hoe, it's an ingress and egress down that snaky ramp which will irretrievably ator alcazar gardens. It's where that small parking lot is behind the -- I think it's the museum of man. So that it will be destroyed by doing this, when there are alternatives that will not impact at all on the interior of the park.

ST. JOHN: Okay. Sarina, thank you for your perspective. The thing is, though, David, this is a bit of time crunch on this, isn't there? This is not just happening in a vacuum, time wise. Explain why there is to some degree a bit of a rush to decide on this.

ROLLAND: They'd like to get it done before 2,015, which is when there'll be a big centennial celebration of the Panama California exposition. So that's what they're trying to do it by. But the caller brings up a point, and that is alternatives. There are another -- there are lots of ideas out there. We have the mayor's office seems to have just glommed onto Erwin Jacobs' idea because he presented it.

ST. JOHN: Well, there's a lot of money attached.

ROLLAND: He has been -- sure. But would he be willing to attach his money to a different idea if it was proposed? And it was maybe a better idea? He has seemed unwilling to seriously consider other alternatives.

ST. JOHN: How many public hearings have there actually been on this?

ROLLAND: I'm afraid I can't answer that. I don't know how many. There has been a process, a public process, and this is a public process going on right now. It wept before a City Council committee. They kicked it to the full counsel. So there will be a full airing of this.

ST. JOHN: Next Tuesday.

ROLLAND: If they choose to sign this memorandum of understanding, they're careen headlong toward an environmental impact report, and that's a public process, and that's where they're gonna get sued. And this is gonna get tied up in court.

ST. JOHN: So you want to try to get something that has public support before you start. 1-888-895-5727 is our number. And Maria is on the line from San Diego. Go ahead, Maria.

NEW SPEAKER: There are three points I'd like to make. The first is that the disabled parking in front of the art museum has been there for quite a while. It's very successful. I think there are more and more people in San Diego, particularly people who have grownup here, who are going to be walking with canes in the next ten years. And it's very important to keep that parking in front of the art museum because they tend to go to the art museum more than the museum of man. The second thing is, the whole idea of disfiguring Balboa Park by changing the -- over the Laurel street bridge seems to be a sacrilege. That's the way it was built, it was meant to be entered in that way. When you look at old plans of the, park, you see the intention of the layout.

ST. JOHN: Can I ask but that? When we look at the graphics of the difference between how it is now and how it would be with the plan, it doesn't appear that there's really that big a difference to the way you enter the park. What makes you say it would be a sacrilege?

NEW SPEAKER: When you're talking about closing down the bridge and really making that a pedestrian bridge. That characters -- part of --

ST. JOHN: You mean that's not part of --

CALBREATH: That was my idea.

ROLLAND: Mine too.

ST. JOHN: Some people want to make it a pedestrian bridge and no cars.

CALBREATH: That's not the Jacobs plan.

ST. JOHN: The Jacobs plan would have cars still going across that bridge.

ROLLAND: But I can help answer your question. Part of the plan that you don't really see in the pretty pictures, you do see it but you don't consider it, they would have to remove a gigantic chunk of the railing of the bridge in order to make -- to create this right turn. And I believe this would be 70†feet of bridge that you would alter, and it is possible that the preservationists, and I don't endorse this opinion because I just don't know, but they do claim that you are endangering the loss of the historic status of that bridge.

ST. JOHN: David, just to wrap this up here, when is this coming before the City Council?

ROLLAND: Next Tuesday, July†18th, downtown.

ST. JOHN: Okay. I'd like that to thank our round table today. It's been fun. Dean Calbreath, economics reporter of the Union Tribune.

CALBREATH: Thank you.

ST. JOHN: And David Rolland, of San Diego City beat, injecting an element of passion as usual.

ROLLAND: My pleasure.

ST. JOHN: And Kyla Calvert, our education reporter from KPBS news. Thank you Kyla.

CALVERT: Thank you for having me.


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