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Balboa Park’s Plaza De Panama Project Can Move Forward

City Attorney Jan Goldsmith acknowledges it may be a ‘hollow victory’

Photo by Milan Kovacevic

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

A three-justice panel of the state 4th District Court of Appeal Thursday reversed a Superior Court ruling that derailed a plan to remove cars from the center of Balboa Park.

The case stems from a plan backed by Irwin Jacobs, the co-founder of Qualcomm, to build a bypass bridge that would carry traffic coming into the park away from the Plaza de Panama.

After the San Diego City Council approved the Jacobs plan, opponents led by the Save Our Heritage Organisation filed a lawsuit to stop it from being implemented.

SOHO officials said a new bridge on the west side of the park would be unsightly and ruin the historical character of the area. Superior Court Judge Timothy Taylor reluctantly ruled in SOHO's favor, citing a municipal code provision on a beneficial use of historic assets.

Appellate Justices Judith McConnell, Alex McDonald and James McIntyre ruled that there "was substantial evidence to support (the) city's findings" that conflicts between pedestrians and vehicles in the plaza were not a reasonable use.

"The fact that we were right on the law all along vindicates the city's legal position, but may prove to be a hollow victory if this project is lost due to the two-year delay arising from the lower court's ruling," City Attorney Jan Goldsmith said. "However, if San Diego still wants this project to go forward, it still has that opportunity."

After the ruling in 2013, Jacobs said his involvement with the project was over.

Traffic is still allowed through the Plaza de Panama, but parking stalls have been removed, and tables and chairs set up to make it more pedestrian friendly. Former Mayor Bob Filner ordered the change in 2013.

SOHO mainly opposed construction of the bypass bridge, while it supported the pedestrian friendly goal.

Alana Coons of SOHO said the group is studying the ruling.

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