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San Diego City Council Advances Balboa Park Parking Garage

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.

Balboa Park Parking Garage Goes Before San Diego City Council
A plan to close Balboa Park's Plaza de Panama to cars and reroute them to a new parking garage goes before the City Council on Monday. There are several questions on how the city will pay for the project, which has grown in cost by $30 million.
Balboa Park Parking Garage Goes Before San Diego City Council
Balboa Park Parking Garage Goes Before San Diego City Council GUEST: Andrew Bowen, metro reporter, KPBS

Today is Monday, September 19 I am Allison St. John who is in for nine. City Council will vote this afternoon on whether to spend $1 million to reconfigure Balboa Park. And here is Andrew Bowen to tell us more. Strack a lot of people thought this project was off at the table. It is a plan to take cars out of the village. Why has this come back to life? This plan was approved by the San Diego city Council in 2012. The historic preservation is food and got it blocked in court. That ruling was ultimately returned on appeal last year. At the time it appeared the interest in the project had waned. There was not a lot of political rallying to revive the project once it was on the table. This summer, Mayor Kevin Faulkner announced that he was bringing it back. Because the project has already had an environmental impact report that has been certified and is consistent with the Balboa Park Master plan, it is fast tracked. It is not the same degree of public scrutiny going through it this time around as the last time when the counselor did ultimately approve it appeared to go into more detail about what it looks like some of the most visible transformation will be at the Plaza day Panama. And the streets that beat up to appear the Plaza is mostly car free. There is a Street on the south side of it that you can drive through what you cross the bridge. The most visible change will be taking all of the streets in the park area and giving them over to pedestrians. The far more expensive than more significant and controversial changes building an underground paid a parking structure. That would be behind the facility. There is an existing parking lot by the garden for handicap people and for drop off the valet service. And cars going to the underground structure within continue on ultimately part they are. We are in the early days right now what is the first step for the city Council this afternoon? The city Council is being asked to approve $1 million for city staff to continue studying this project. And officially placing it on the list of capital improvement projects. The city will use up money to come up with more specific financial details. The full allocation of city dollars would need another approval from the city Council and the committee before that. That is expected later this year. The price tax has jumped considerably in four years. What is the price now? In 2012 when this is originally improved, this was estimated at $45 million for the rough estimates are $75 million. It is significantly more expensive pair part of that is due to new regulations and requirements. Park is also due to a city Council ordinance passed three years ago that requires the city to pay fire wages for public works projects here and there is a more competitive job market. In 2012 there was higher unemployment. Unemployment is now lowers you had to pay more to attract the best talent prismatic last time around Irwin Jacobs said he would pay $30 million. Who will play this time? Irwin Jacobs is expected to leave some philanthropic affairs. But he is not going to contribute another dollars and sell. Private contributions will be about the same. The extra $30 million that the project has increased to be borne by the city. The plan is to borrow that money. The city would issue bonds and they would pay them back with parking revenue that is generated from the paid a parking garage. Met with this plan illuminate free parking in Balboa Park? Know it would be the only pay parking in Balboa Park. There will be free lots elsewhere unless the city decides to change the plans altogether. This is one of the critiques of the plan. Why would you pay money to park in an underground garage when you can find a free spot somewhere else in the park? Another thing critics are saying is we are supposed to be reducing our dependence on cars. If a really planning for a future San Diego where we do not need cars, or perhaps with autonomous vehicles, why do we need to be spending all of this money building a parking garage? It seems like it will be $30 million more than the original estimate. What do the analyst says that The independent budget analyst has a lot of questions for the city staff. In 2012 she had reservations about whether the city would be able to generate the 14-$60 million that the parking was expected to pay for the structure. That figure has tripled in the last 4 years. She was skeptical about $60 million, now, $45 million, that is a bigger number. She also wonders what if private donations still come through as generously as quickly as we might expect? Would that be filled by the city's general fund? With a general fun have to sacrifice some dollars in order to pay for this project and get it finished? The city staff and the mayors say, this vote today to place the project on the capital improvements list is to get all of those questions answered. They're going to do more research and come up with more sound financial details so they can get some real numbers. What I have been told by some people at the city is once the mayor is behind these things, he gets steamrolled through. There is not as much public scrutiny as there should be. It will be interesting to see who shows up today and what opposition there is. Certainly. But as I metro reporter Andrew Bowen. Thank you for coming in this evening.

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The San Diego City Council on Monday voted to spend up to $1 million updating a revived proposal to build an underground paid parking garage in Balboa Park.

The plan was passed by the council in 2012, but was held up for three years by a lawsuit. That lawsuit was resolved, and so Mayor Kevin Faulconer announced this summer he was bringing back the project, which conforms to the park's master plan.

Under the plan, the Plaza de Panama would be made pedestrian-only, and cars would be re-routed to a new subterranean paid parking garage behind the Spreckels Organ Pavilion.

The estimated cost has grown since 2012 from $45 million to as much as $75 million. The maximum share paid by the city has nearly tripled, from $16 million to $45 million.

Councilman Todd Gloria, whose district includes Balboa Park, said he thought the plan was a good compromise and looked forward to hearing more details about the project's financing.

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"I'm anxious to see a project implemented, but like other big infrastructure projects, not at any price," he said.

Council President Sherri Lightner cast the only vote against advancing the park plan, saying the city should not be spending money on new capital projects in the park when it cannot afford to maintain the park's existing infrastructure.

"I believe introducing a paid parking structure to the center of Balboa Park is not the best use of public resources," she said. "In addition this project is not in keeping with the city's Climate Action Plan goals because it continues to prioritize personal automobile travel and parking over alternative transportation."

Independent Budget Analyst Andrea Tevlin told KPBS before the vote that there are currently few details on how the project would be funded. Much of the money is expected to come from charitable donations and parking fees in the garage. But the city has not revealed how much it would have to charge for parking, or how the city would cover the costs if parking fees or donations came up short.

"Until we have that, it's a little hard to weigh in on this project," Tevlin said. "There has to be a thorough discussion at the council level before this can move forward. And the public needs to know also what this really means."

A final vote on allocating the money for the project is expected in November.

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