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Mayor Faulconer Revives Balboa Park Plaza Plan

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

Once killed off in court, a plan to remove vehicles from the Plaza de Panama in Balboa Park was revived Thursday by Mayor Kevin Faulconer, who also proposed a ballot measure on funding upgrades at Mission Bay and other regional parks.

Mayor Faulconer Revives Balboa Park Plaza Plan
Mayor Faulconer Revives Balboa Park Plaza Plan GUEST:Roger Showley, reporter, The San Diego-Union Tribune

The top story on midday edition, remember the plan to move parking at a pleasant day Panama and reroute traffic? The one that got shot down by a court ruling that was later overturned? Well, the plan is back including support for it to wealthy land -- philanthropist Irwin Jacobs, Kevin Faulkner plays the -- praise the revival and said the city has a plan that will preserve and improve Balboa Park and other city parks for decades to come. It will provide hundreds of millions of dollars more for San Diego parks as well as finally elevate the Plaza to Panama into one of San Diego's premier public spaces. [Applause] That was mayor Faulkner at yesterday's press conference, joining us now is Roger Schooley, growth and development reporter at the San Diego Tribune, thank you for being with us today. Glad to be there. Roger, the plan has at least 2 aspects and one would revive Irwin Jacobs has a day Panama plan, tell us more about the plan and let us know if anything has changed? As you said the plan was shut down by the court and revived last year through an appeals process. Let's go back to 2010 when they had a press conference in the positive Panama outside the Museum of Art and announced a proposal for finally solving the trafficking pedestrian complex in the park. He had a number of elements in that plan including a so-called bypass bridge, you call this the Centennial Bridge and it goes off the Cabrillo Bridge leading to the center of Balboa Park and taking you over to an 800 space parking garage behind the building. The other part of this was to remove cars and traffic from the middle of the park and turn it back over to pedestrians. The one thing that has changed is when Bob Fullmer was the mayor he ordered parking remove the positive Panama and that is the state today, the bigger goal of Jacobs was to clear out all of the traffic in the cars from the center of the park. That is a plan that city Council approved in May approved master plans and other plans to make this happen. It is basically a Rip van Winkle and we have awakened from a slumber in our back on the front burner. Now that we are awake again, what is the price tag? The cost four years ago was $45 million, Irwin Jacobs had spent his own money, $1 billion in legal and planning cost. The actual construction cost is last -- less. The mayor's office said they will look at estimates again because time has passed and there are other changes. All we know at the moment is that the $45 million is what it was estimated that back then. Irwin Jacobs was going to be the main donor behind the project, I should say he is a large contributor to KPBS. In 2013 he said he was calling it quits, he had had enough of the legal wrangling and the controversy but it does look like he is back on board? That was a big surprise to me and everyone else because he was not nasty about it that he said I have other things to worry about and see you later. He did not say he would never come back he just said I'm not going to focus on this but the time being. He will not pay for the whole thing, he is going to lead a fundraising campaign. That is what did not happen in 2010, he formed a committee, the positive Panama committee with a lot of movers and shakers. He said I am going to reach out to other donors and collect money and raise it privately. Than the city was going to take on about $18 million in cost to the parking garage. The implication was if there is a shortfall in the fundraising side that he and his wife would pick up the difference. He did not say that yesterday but it sure sounded like he was going to take the same position because he wants to get a ton. Roger, this plan when it was first proposed was very controversial with some people. What you hear from opponents? Like people with save our heritage, will continue to be controversial? Just like the mayor and Dr. J pics have come back to life so has the opposition in a powerful statement saying, held that we will not go for this. They are threatening all sorts of actions, I don't know if there is a legal basis for challenging it. The city Council was of 2 minds of the time after it fell to the courts and there was not a lot of enthusiasm. They will have to prove this eventually that it's funded and commit with parking bonds and so forth and I guess it will be another battle, it is a big unknown. Finally I said there are a couple of aspects to the plan and the mayor also wants to extend Cropsey, what would it do for Balboa Park? It was set to take Mission Bay revenues and share it with other regional parks. It expires in 2039 so his proposal is to extend it to 2069. From the numbers that I thought could potentially produce $1.6 billion in revenue for Mission Bay Park and Balboa Park and the other parks like Mission trails and others in the beaches. There is a long and must list of things that people want to do in every single Park in San Diego. There is no end to what people like to see in Balboa Park itself has many unmet needs and wish lists that extend. At one point I added it up and it sounded like it was more than $1 billion of things that people want to do in the park over the next 50 years. Roger Schooley is the growth and development reporter, he joined us to talk about the revival of the Plaza day Panama plan for Balboa Park.

The Balboa Park plan would remove 6.3 acres of roadways and parking lots and return them to park-like settings, build a bypass bridge to direct traffic away from the center of the park and construct a three-story underground parking structure with nearly 800 spaces.

The plan was proposed by Qualcomm co-founder Irwin Jacobs and supported by the City Council in 2012, but opponents were able to convince a Superior Court judge the following February that the project violated San Diego's municipal code.


According to the mayor's office, the ruling was later overturned on appeal, and the state Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

"The judicial system erroneously delayed these park improvements, but ultimately justice was done," City Attorney Jan Goldsmith said. "Now the project can move forward and we can reclaim these plazas and promenades for future generations to enjoy."

Jacobs, chairman of the Plaza de Panama Committee, said its members are excited about the plan and will raise the money needed to carry it out.

"Although we were not able to realize the Plaza de Panama project as a component of the (2015) centennial celebration, its completion just a few years later will forever remind us of the inheritance bestowed by the visionary founders and be a source of enjoyment for ourselves and future generations," Jacobs said.

Along with donations, the project will be funded by city infrastructure dollars and parking garage revenues, according to the mayor's office.


Regarding Mission Bay, Faulconer is proposing a ballot measure that would extend a provision of the City Charter that provides a funding stream for improvements.

Currently, the section that's in effect until 2039 directs any Mission Bay lease revenue above $20 million a year to capital investments in Mission Bay Park (75 percent) and other regional parks like Balboa Park and Mission Trails (25 percent).

The change would extend the provision an extra 30 years and give the other regional parks a 35 percent slice of the lease revenue pie, according to the mayor's office.

"Just as our forbearers who created Mission Bay Park and Balboa Park did before us, it's now our opportunity to leave our generation's mark on San Diego's park space and historic treasures," Faulconer said.

"Our regional parks are among San Diego's most valuable assets," the mayor said. "We're taking two major steps that will lead to an investment of hundreds of millions of dollars in Mission Bay Park, Balboa Park and other regional parks to ensure they are preserved and enhanced for future generations to enjoy."

The proposal received unanimous support from the City Council's infrastructure committee on Thursday but will have to receive full council approval to make it onto an election ballot.

"We obviously need to invest more in Balboa Park and our other regional parks, and moving forward with the provisions that are in this amendment I think will enable greater flexibility, both for projects within Mission Bay — obviously a key priority — and also some of our other parks as well," committee Chairman Mark Kersey said.

The committee members also asked staff to study whether a shorter extension might be better, determine which projects might be paid for by a potential bond and have the base $20 million figure adjust with inflation.

Staff were also asked to look into ways to reallocate funds, if necessary, to comply with terms of a trust in which the state turned over Mission Bay to the city.