Skip to main content

LATEST UPDATES: Racial Justice | Tracking COVID-19 (coronavirus)

Complications Persist For Plaza De Panama Project

Welton Jones, member of the Balboa Park Committee of 100, and David Marshall, the city of San Diego's preservation consultant for the Plaza de Panama project, debate the plans to change Balboa Park.

We're sorry. This audio clip is no longer available. A transcript has been made available.


Letter from National Park Service

Letter from National Park Service

Letter from the National Park Service to City Councilman Kevin Faulconer.

Download document

To view PDF files, download Acrobat Reader.


Response to National Park Service Letter

Response to National Park Service Letter

A letter from Plaza de Panama project preservation consultant David Marshall in response to the National Park Service.

Download document

To view PDF files, download Acrobat Reader.

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.

But a local preservationist group has sued to stop the project. San Diego's Superior Court concurred with the Save Our Heritage Organisation that an agreement the city signed with Jacobs was illegal.

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.


San Diego News Matters podcast branding

KPBS' daily news podcast covering local politics, education, health, environment, the border and more. New episodes are ready weekday mornings so you can listen on your morning commute.

  • Don’t have time to keep up on the latest news? We’ve got you covered with a mid-week check-in every Wednesday afternoon.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Midday Edition banner

KPBS Midday Edition is a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or sign up for our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.