What Is Plan B For Redevelopment Of Balboa Park?
Last week, the Rules Committee of the San Diego City Council declined to support the controversial "Jacobs Plan" to remove cars from the Plaza de Panama in Balboa Park by building a road around the Museum of Man. What is plan B for removing cars from the Plaza by 2015, the 100th anniversary of the Panama-California Exposition?
Todd Gloria, councilmember, District 3, San Diego City Council
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MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I am Maureen Cavanaugh. City planners seem to be back to square one in efforts to free Balboa Park's main plaza of automobile traffic. The ambitious plan created by QUALCOMM founder Irwin Jacobs did not get sought-after approval from the San Diego City Council member last week. The proposal called for the building of an offramp from the Sixth Ave. bridge diverting traffic to an expanded parking structure within the park. The plan has faced major opposition from some park conservation groups and now a number of former supporters have also had second thoughts including my guest San Diego city Council member Todd Gloria. Councilman Gloria, welcome to Midday Edition.
TODD GLORIA: Thank you, thanks for having me on.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now if anyone listening wants to comment on the Balboa Park plan please give us a call. That number is 1-888-895-5727. That is 1-888-895-KPBS. Now councilmember Gloria, Balboa Park is in your district, right?
TODD GLORIA: It is yes. I am a proud representative.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: At first you were leaning toward the Irwin Jacobs plan to get cars off the Plaza de panama. What attracted you to the idea initially?
TODD GLORIA: I want to correct something. When I submitted the motion of (22E DMI) to the councils (inaudible) approve the product and it does raise a number of concerns for their constituents and the committee about the product and I think there are three main ones that your listeners need to be aware of. Number one is we took public testimony at the hearing threatening litigation against the project so we ask for legal analysis to make sure that the action we were taking was going to invite litigation that we can because we avoid. We want claimed in time for the 2015 centennial. Secondly wasn't clear in the MIBR instruction that the taxpayers will be protected from some cost overruns it was stated elsewhere but not the actual legal document. Naturally because the city is not a position to pay for the project and actually the cost overruns need to be borne by the Plaza de Panama committee. Pretty easy to address (inaudible) but we need to see it (inaudible) and lastly this project cannot be approved during, the MOU has to be approved during the environmental review process.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me stop and ask you what does MOU stand for?
TODD GLORIA: Memorandum of understanding. We as a city understood and acknowledge that we will have a working committee that is chaired by the chair Dr. Jacobs and we agree that they will run the project and XY and Z. and we can agree to a lot of that stuff but in terms of exactly blessing this specific project we are not allowed to do that unless the project has undergone environmental review and that will come sometime next spring. So that's why it's inappropriate to endorse a particular project. We can give feedback but about ultimately we need to leave that decision once we have the environmental document in the end and I said we will come the spring.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Just to be clear you did not vote in that meeting to approve the plan.
TODD GLORIA: And we are being asked to approve the MOU but members said because the MOU wasn't inclusive of a description of the project including the bridge that you mentioned that we could be inviting litigation because it could be seen as endorsing the project before we have the environmental analysis and naturally we do not want to do that. We want the project done in time for 2015 critically because the bypass bridge is a superior approach but we don't have enough information to know that the only way we'll know that that is once the EIR is done and we have that information. It will complement both the bypass suggestion and alternatives for improving the park. We don't think the council's in the position to endorse that particular project. We may do that eventually we don't have enough information to do that yet.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: There's been a lot of resistance to this plan for the ramp especially from preservationist groups in the park. Is there anything in their arguments that has caused you to take a second look at this?
TODD GLORIA: There has been. I think the Plaza de Panama committee makes a strong argument when they say that by using their approach you are going to get sort of three quarters of the Plaza reclaimed because the existing row to be moved over to the southwest corner but instead you would get over 6 acres of public space because all of the areas where cars travel will be removed and returned to the public space that's a powerful argument. Naturally on the other side preservationists have said well, the way public approved a different approach years ago and that process has to be respected. Additionally they indicate that the bypass bridge could endanger that historicity of the bridge, maybe imperil the historic designation of the park and we need to get that out of the EIR process they also related other issues, paying to park those are issues that are valid concerns that have to be heard and internalized and responded to the EIR is the processor to do that, the MOU is not.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to take a couple of phone calls but first I want to ask you councilman Gloria when the committee on the city Council declined to support the roadway around the Museum of Man it seemed Irwin Jacobs suspended his participation in the project. Was that a surprise?
TODD GLORIA: I think it was a surprise because again we could not endorse a particular project in the MOU. We can do that in the EIR. I hope that he will remain engaged because we are not far apart in terms of our approaches. If we can all dedicate ourselves to a public process that will vet the information analytically very technically we will decide the EIR will decide the superior approach and we can act together and I hope that he will remain engaged because he deeply loves the park as we all do. Certainly San Diego has benefited from his philanthropy Balboa Park could benefit from his pledge. I hope you will stay engaged with us as we move forward.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We are taking your calls. Matthew is on the line from Northpark and hello, Matthew.
NEW SPEAKER: Todd, Hi. I saw you at the bagel shop the other day. I hear you on KPBS every week. I'd like to hear your support regarding the Bridge. I lived in New York city for most of my life and they would just close major thoroughfares for whatever event and I don't think that there would be much problem with starting every Sunday of closing the bridge, getting people used to the fact that they will not get access. There's really very little benefit of driving across the park from one end to the other and when we do have an event like the rock 'n roll Marathon they could just divert traffic in whatever means is necessary to accommodate the event. I don't see much of the need for all of this major construction outside of just a parking structure would help.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Thank you for the call, Matthew. And your response?
TODD GLORIA: I agree and that's part of the direction of my motion that I put forward to the Council but also start asking staff to explore the accrediting. One of the challenges Plaza de Panama committee has come across is San Diego needs to be exposed to what they're trying to accomplish is which is not just exposing portions of the Plaza but open space. As Matthew notes that it would stop assuming that on Sunday or holiday and we kind of do that now for all the charity races that go through the above have a taste of it was is and your get a taste of where we are designed and built and have them be able to chime in on whether or not this proposal is the right one to do or perhaps they might find another way to do it. But again the process for deciding that is the EIR.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: It's interesting that as much dissension as there has been about this plan or these plans one thing that everybody seems to agree about is the idea of getting traffic off the Plaza de Panama. I wonder if there's (inaudible) ability that that since this until it is now in jeopardy.
TODD GLORIA: I don't believe so. No matter what you feel about the bypass bridge proposal (inaudible) wants to be carved that I certainly want that, Dr. Jacobs wants that, Mayor Sanders wants that and I think the public wants that and so that's why I'm confident we will get something done in time for 2015 because you can't have that much consensus and actually not accomplish something. I think if everyone can come together with goodwill and the best intentions of the park we should be able to get this done.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Councilman Gloria, let's take another call. Sonny is calling from Banker's Hill. Hi., Sonny.
NEW SPEAKER: Thank you for taking my call Maureen, Councilmember Gloria. I'm not a constituent of his however I admire whatever he does. I just wanted to make a comment and this has probably been taken into consideration there was a great letter to the UT a couple three days ago about closing the bridge for the period of time that we celebrate the 2015 exposition. And to give us an idea of what it would be like and some alternatives to parking and transportation and I'm just wondering what Mr. Gloria has considered, if he's considered that (inaudible).
TODD GLORIA: That's very similar to the last caller, correct? Sort of wanting to test this out and we frankly need to be doing this in more places, reclaiming these public spaces that we've turned over for inappropriate uses. Elsewhere in the park I pointed to the (20th MP) location in Golden Hill where rehab city maintenance yard where we Park city vehicles on Balboa park their vehicles (inaudible) why do you have to be at recreation. One thing that I might note is by closing the bridge we do need to study that and have information. There are actually about 7000 cars that use the bridge every day to get from one end of the park to the other and to close that will displace the traffic somewhere else. We owe it to the public to study to understand and mitigate for it. But I think what she's asking for is not too much and frankly that is what Dr. Jacobs is advocating for because he wants it done in time for 2015 so that the public can have all that space in time, but there is a process to do that and we want to follow it.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: If Irwin Jacobs has permanently walked away from the plan because it didn't get approval from the city Council committee, does this now the whole idea of what to do with the park fall into the new Balboa Park Conservancy and how would they possibly begin to manage that?
TODD GLORIA: It certainly would be a large task for the Conservancy and I'm glad you raise it because this is another major initiative others have been understandably focused on the Plaza de Panama but the Conservancy is something that we set up last year to take on projects of this kind. Eventually we want to grow them into it but the notion of having a group that is singularly focused on preserving Balboa Park really inviting and the kind of philanthropy at all levels at the Dr. Jacobs level all of us in San Diego have a responsibility as trying to maintain the park as the magnificent park that it is. I tell people when the park was created as we know it in 1915 in the Panama California exposition we were a small city and we did something big and we dreamed big and they gave us something that is Balboa Park. The question for us today is what is our gift to the next generation of San Diegans? In my judgment the Conservancy will allow us to convey that gift forward for the next 100 years of the park.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: As we understand it we had Irvin Jacobs on the program a while ago and there was a certain amount of urgency in this proposal in that he wanted it to be completed and the supporters wanted it to be completed by the 100th anniversary in 2015. Is there any possibility that there would actually be construction going on in the park during the 100th anniversary? That wouldn't be a good idea, would it?
TODD GLORIA: No it wouldn't. That is my goal, that is the mayor's goal, that is Dr. Jacobs goal to get this done by 2015. That is what we are going to try and strive to do going back to one of my earlier points about the threat of litigation. The timeline is tight. But we certainly know that Dr. Jacobs is capable of very impressive things, just look at his career. I think we have confidence that this committee of citizens can get this done, but we have to do it very wisely and one of the things the committee was asking for was an assurance but you cannot avoid litigation. People are going to sue that is their right and we can't avoid it but if there is litigation that we can avoid by making sure we take all the right steps and doing them appropriately then we should do that because we acknowledge that the timeframe is tight and we don't have time to spare and we don't want to get tangled up in litigation that is completely avoidable.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I've been speaking with Todd Gloria, councilmember for district three of the San Diego city Council and thank you so much.
TODD GLORIA: My gosh, thank you.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So let us look to an aspect of San Diego that is not often acknowledged that our region provides a new home for tens of thousands of international refugees. We will hear how local politicians plan to honor this weekend's first annual world refugee Day. Stay with us as KPBS Midday Edition continues. First an update on the stories making news this hour. This is KPBS Midday Edition. I am Maureen Cavanaugh.