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Plan To Remove Traffic From Balboa Park Plaza Clears Hurdle

Photo by Milan Kovacevic

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

A revived plan to remove vehicle traffic from the center of San Diego's Balboa Park cleared its initial hurdle Thursday when the City Council's Infrastructure Committee approved spending $1 million to complete planning and documentation.

The plan envisions shutting off traffic in the Plaza de Panama, Plaza de California and Esplanade areas of the park, constructing a vehicle bypass bridge and building a parking garage behind the Spreckels Organ Pavilion.

The City Council first approved of the project four years ago, but it was overturned by a judge on a technicality. The city later won an appeal, and Mayor Kevin Faulconer recently revived the idea.

During the intervening time, parking areas have been taken away from the Plaza de Panama. The open area between the Museum of Man and El Prado cultural institutions has been spruced up with seating areas and landscaping, but there are still conflicts between moving vehicles and pedestrians.

The unanimous committee action, which needs approval by the full City Council in September, would give the project a place in the city's capital improvements budget for this fiscal year.

"Although it is a priceless San Diego treasure, there is quite a bit of deferred maintenance as most of us are aware, and I think if we want the park to be around for our grandchildren, we need to certainly up our game when it comes to investment," committee Chairman Mark Kersey said.

According to city staff, it appears the entire project will cost around $70 to 75 million, with the municipal contribution capped at $45 million and philanthropy covering the rest. A detailed financing plan is expected to go before the City Council in November.

Bruce Coons, the executive director of the preservation group Save Our Heritage Organisation, who sued to stop the original project and has vowed to fight it again, said city taxpayers will end up bearing the entire cost.

Vicki Granowitz, chairwoman of the North Park Planning Committee, said the plan was being "steam-rolled through" despite significant opposition.

"It actually doesn't accomplish the things you want it to," said Granowitz, who contended the parking garage would attract even more vehicles into the center of the park.

Jim Kidrick, president and CEO of the San Diego Air and Space Museum, called opponents the "usual naysayers" who always oppose new projects.

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