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San Diego City Council Approves Plaza De Panama Funding

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.

San Diego City Council Approves Plaza De Panama Funding
San Diego City Council Approves Plaza De Panama Funding GUEST: Roger Showley, reporter, The San Diego Union-Tribune
San Diego City Council Approves Plaza De Panama Funding
The San Diego City Council voted 8 to 1 to spend $49 million to close off portions of Balboa Park to car traffic and build an underground parking garage.

The San Diego city Council concentrates on the renovation in Balboa Park. This is KPBS Midday Edition. The city Council approves a $79 million public partnership today for traffic and build a new underground parking lot. Last week Measure A did not get enough funds dust votes. We will let you know where those projects are now. It is a great time to hear from a international scholar. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. KPBS Midday Edition is next . Plan to remove cars from the hard to Balboa Park it's a second chance. What is next for sending transportation projects after the defeat of Measure A? This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. It is Tuesday, November 15. Our top story amid the edition the Plaza de Panama plan is back and a lot more expensive than it was in 2012. The proposal to Zyburt traffic away from the heart of a ballpark and turn the gravel up into underground paid parking structure received overwhelming support from the Sandi Cole city Council on Monday. The city is set to move forward on funding for the project with the city covering nearly $50 million in project owners raising $30 million. Joining me is Roger. Is is the same project that was first presented in 2012? Pretty much it is. It is something that started six years ago when they propose to edit went to the courts and was challenged by preservationist so it is back alive and kicking. Remind us about the name changes it would bring to the park? It is tomb remove parking from the center of the park. They will build a bypass bridge and divert traffic over to a new parking garage south of the sparkles Pavilion and the second part is once the cars are gone then they will turn the road and the pauses and a permanent into pedestrian only areas and the third thing is to add landscaping and a new rooftop park on top of the garage. Back in 2012 the cost was $45 million now it is $79 million why's it so much more expensive? There are a couple of reasons. They did not estimate to begin with so as they were refining the details of price started going up and then there's the usual explanations of inflation and back it -- then the economy was in a recession and then there's been a few changes in building code regulations that increase the cost and another thing is 15 or 20% of increase is that they require newly wage levels. As I understand it the city's financing plan relies on paying for bonds with parking fees from the new underground lot. Is it certain that those fees would cover the interest payments on the bonds that the city has to raise in order to come up with this money? They have a parking consultant the estimate at 50% accuracy -- the that there would be able to pay the cost of the bonds. If they don't then the city would have to pay for the gap from the general fund. So for its part and then the other park is from private donor group and that has committed to raising $30 million needed for the project. Who was going to be raising that money? They created something called the Panama committee in 2010. They've already raised $6 million from the San Diego foundation and so they have 24 million dollars to go and they have to be able to give about a quarter of the 30 million to the city before the bids are accepted and construction can begin and that the committee is responsible for keeping it up every month. There may be donors who are willing to do this and at the end of the date, perhaps they will fill in the gaps. They were big donors of the San Diego central library that opened three years ago so I think most people might step up. It during public testimony yesterday people commenting on whether or not the city Council should approve this plan. A lot of people stepped up and said Balboa Park is a big infrastructure repair backlog. Why do advocates say that spending $79 million on a new parking structure makes sense? For several reasons. The master plan of Balboa Park and then the follow-up a few years later did cause the parking structure so that's not really a new idea. The second thing about turning the roads and parking lots into pedestrian areas is something that's been part of the plan long-term hope for Balboa Park. So the fundamentals of the plan have been long-standing. The details are different. As far as the infrastructure improvements it's not just about Balboa Park. It is in every single neighborhood throughout the city so I guess the decision here is that if the donors are happy to donate to Irwin Jacobs plan then they will be more willing to support other things in the park that had been long-standing for many years. On the other hand the city facility. They should be spending money on infrastructure and maintenance citywide and they should be using excuses for their responsibilities. Last time around that this plan the legal challenge kind of threw it off the mark. Is there any chance that there will be another legal challenge. He did not think there was any other reason. Lawyers are paid to come up with new ideas for legal challenges in the organization that led the challenge last time is advertised or asking people to donate to a new legal defense fund. I don't know what the basis of their challenge might be but there's always that chance. I've been speaking with Roger Showley. Thank you so much.

The San Diego City Council voted 8 to 1 on Monday to spend $49 million to close off portions of Balboa Park to car traffic and build an underground parking garage. City Council President Sherri Lightner was the lone "no" vote on the plan.

The plan to remake the park's Plaza de Panama was originally passed by the council in 2012, but was held up for three years by a lawsuit. After that lawsuit was resolved, Mayor Kevin Faulconer announced this summer he was bringing back the project.


Under the plan, the Plaza de Panama would be shut down to cars. Instead, cars would be re-routed to a new 797-space underground paid parking garage behind the Spreckels Organ Pavilion.

Parking would cost $2 to $8 on weekdays and $3 to $12 on weekends.

The estimated cost of the project has grown since 2012 from $45 million to $78 million. The city would contribute $39 million in the form of a bond — up from $16 million in 2012 — along with $10 million in city funds.

The remaining $30 million would be covered by Balboa Park United, a coalition of park interest groups, as well as Plaza de Panama Committee, which was established by Qualcomm founder Irwin Jacobs when the original plan was proposed. The donors would also pay if construction costs exceed the plan's budget.

The plan includes an option to name parts of the park after donors, including the bypass bridge and a rooftop park. Those names would be approved by the mayor.


At Monday's meeting, Jacobs said the committee aims to raise the funding before a construction contract is signed.

He said the plan would preserve the park’s historic significance and would "reclaim the historic heart of the park."

"We look forward to viewing many families enjoying picnics on green lawn where now there is only a large surface asphalt parking lot," he said. "We expect this beautiful new space will add greatly to the park experience and to the enjoyment of the nearby and wonderful organ concerts."

Bruce Coons, head of the nonprofit Save Our Heritage Organisation that opposes the plan, said he thinks the plan will bring too much disruption to the park and doesn’t preserve its historic nature.

"We just don’t think the project meets any of its stated goals," he said. "For a terrific amount of money can’t see how it makes sense for the museums, for the public, for anybody."

"It’s a bad project and should go back to the drawing board," he added.

City Councilwoman Marti Emerald voted for the plan and said change is part of the park’s history.

"This is an organic ever changing asset for all of us in the city and we need to make some changes as we go," she said.

Some council members expressed concern over the project's increased price tag.

"The cost has increased quite a bit and the risk to the city is larger than it was before," said City Councilman David Alvarez.

"If we could have built this six or seven years ago when the economy was a little bit different," said City Councilman Scott Sherman. "There were more people looking for work in the construction industry so we would have gotten a much better deal on that."

Costs increased in part because of requirements that workers on public projects be paid at a certain rate and new stormwater regulations.

Other public speakers voiced fears that the city's plan to pay back its bond using parking revenues wouldn't pan out. If the city doesn't make enough money from the parking garage, the extra loan payments would be covered by the general fund.

Construction on the project is expected to begin in September 2017 and be finished at the end of 2019.

Corrected: July 17, 2024 at 9:21 PM PDT
Disclosure: Irwin Jacobs is a major funder of KPBS.