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

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.

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

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.

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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