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Questions Remain After Balboa Park Centennial Planning Group Disbanded

The North Fountain in Balboa Park's Plaza de Panama.
Joanne DiBona
The North Fountain in Balboa Park's Plaza de Panama.

Questions Remain After Balboa Park Centennial Planning Group Disbanded
After the Balboa Park Centennial planning group disbanded this week, two questions remain: Where did the more than $2 million the city gave the group go? And what happens now?

What was once supposed to be a multi-million dollar, year-long epic birthday celebration for the city of San Diego may turn out to be more like a couple of fireworks and a cake after the group responsible for planning the event was disbanded.

So what happened?


City Council president and former interim Mayor Todd Gloria called it a "confluence of events."

He said the committee to craft the Balboa Park Centennial was formed in 2011 by former mayor Jerry Sanders, who told the group to plan a $20 million party. Then it got usurped by the next mayor, Bob Filner who talked about putting on a $100 million shindig.

Gloria said by the time he got to look at what was really going on when he took over as interim mayor last August, it was clear something was off.

"I was surprised to find out the many changes that were made," he said. "You know so much time and attention was paid to the logo, with very little to no time being spent on fundraising."

That leaves the question of why a committee formed in 2011 didn't start fundraising until half way through 2013?


Committee outreach coordinator Gerry Braun said you can't raise funds without something to show for it.

"You can't solicit corporate sponsorship without having plans and without having detailed plans." he said.

But as far as fundraising, better late than never, right?

"Our direction from everyone in the city was to keep hope alive and keep plugging away and keep hope alive and there was a strong belief that we would be able to raise this money," he said.

San Diego interim Mayor Todd Gloria speaks to the media at his weekly news conference, on Feb. 20, 2014.
Guillermo Sevilla
San Diego interim Mayor Todd Gloria speaks to the media at his weekly news conference, on Feb. 20, 2014.

But the interim mayor at the time, Gloria said after he entered office that strong belief began to fell weaker and weaker.

So I asked Gloria: Should they have stepped away earlier?

"That may be true, but I think all of us were trying to recover and take stock of what was achievable," he said. "I spent the last six months meeting with a number of potential sponsors, none of whom really, I think were compelled by the vision the committee had created, and as such, the sponsorships did not come in."

Spokesman Braun said the committee was tasked with using the community to help create its vision of what the celebration should look like. But that didn't happen, he said.

"We got a fair response from some people, but by and large that particular vision of inviting San Diego into the park to tell their story wasn't very successful either."

That might be a point with which Gloria takes issue.

"The concern that I hear and one that I share is the lack of engagement with the community," he said. "There are plenty of people who want to participate in this celebration but who have felt as though they haven't had that opportunity."

And during this whole time, members of the now defunct committee were getting paid from city coffers —Braun got $8,000 a month — he's also heading up the transition committee to return the process of party planning to the city. He's negotiating his contract right now.

Balboa Park Planning Group Announcement
The Balboa Park Celebration, Inc. announces it will turn over planning authority to the city of San Diego.
To view PDF files, download Acrobat Reader.

"Salaries aren't based on unforeseeable outcomes. They are based on the skill sets of the people and the market for those types of skills so that's essentially how salaries are set," he said.

But what if those skills come up short?

Gloria said he understands citizens may be angry over the waste of their hard earned dollars.

"Well I share their concern and I share their outrage," he said. "But I will say that I don't think everything has been done to date is a loss."

What ever the city can learn from this is up to the Special Events Department, which now takes over the celebration.

Gloria said park museums are already planning events for the big date, and said the city will highlight the many events that already flourish in the park, such as LGBT pride and Earth Day.

But that also could sound a lot like what Balboa Park does every year.