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Chris Ward Wants $9.5M To Spruce Up 'Embarrassing' Balboa Park

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After the collapse of plans to revamp Balboa Park’s Plaza de Panama, San Diego City Councilman Chris Ward wants the city the use that money to upgrade the city’s signature park.

Show transcript

Speaker 1: 00:00 From bathrooms that don't work to leaky roofs. Conditions in Balboa Park have been described as an embarrassment. Now there's a push to reinvest the nine point $5 million budgeted for the Plaza de Panama Project and use that money for a wide range of improvements across the park. Supporters Point to a list of neglected repairs like old plumbing that may burst and damage artifacts and museums to explain how else that money could be used as John Bolthouse, executive director of the nonprofit friends of Balbo a park. John, welcome. Thank you very much Jane. So most of the park as we see it today, was created during the Panama California Exposition of 1915. What was the plan or expectation for those buildings afterwards?

Speaker 2: 00:42 They were intended to be temporary. They were put into place to celebrate the exposition and then to be removed and returning all of Balboa Park back to a open space. But the community had such a love for the architecture for the buildings, so it was going to be hard to tear them all down. Some of them were in fact torn down, but uh, many of them stood in place and many of them are still there today.

Speaker 1: 01:05 Not meant to be permanent, but here we are. I'm so, can you explain the scope of responsibility for upkeep then between those who run the museums and the city who manages the park?

Speaker 2: 01:15 It's been described as Byzantine I think is, uh, the, the term, uh, but in, in a nutshell, jade Babel park is owned by the citizens of San Diego and therefore the city of San Diego is ultimately responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of Balboa Park. The organizations that have the resident institutions inside the buildings, they're responsible. I'm broad brushing because there are some nuances on some of the leases a, but they're responsible for the interior of the museums painting and any renovations, exhibit installations. That's strictly the organizations that occupy the, the buildings. So the parks and recreation department is responsible for everything. The open spaces, the exterior of the buildings, all the infrastructure that feeds those buildings. That's a, you and me, the taxpayers through the city of San Diego.

Speaker 1: 02:00 And there have been complaints about a leaky roofs and faulty plumbing that threatened the collection and archives of certain museums. Can you give me an example of one and what's being done about it?

Speaker 2: 02:10 Oh, uh, yes. Boy. Where to start. You know, the most recent one, well I shouldn't say the most recent because it happens frequently. I may not be keeping up with how often it happens, but uh, there was a penetration of, of rain, uh, on the roof of the custody Balboa a about a year ago and had compromised and then threatened to the, uh, the collections at the San Diego History Center. I used to work at the air and space museum, which is in the historic Ford building. We constantly dealt with penetration of a, of rain water coming into the roofs and also storm water coming and running in and under the, under the doors as well.

Speaker 1: 02:43 And some have said the public restrooms in the park are just an embarrassment. What condition are they in and what's needed to fix them.

Speaker 2: 02:50 That is the straw that broke the camel's back on really coalescing everybody in bowel ballparks saying, come on, hey, this affects everybody. There are a couple of dozen restrooms in the park and virtually every single one of them is either in monstrous repair or woeful disrepair. The whole programming for comfort stations, restrooms and needs to be looked at. And there's a question of is it more cost effective to scrape them and start from scratch or to do a renovation? It's probably a combination of those, uh, but whatever it is, it needs to have our focus. And, uh, let's do it now

Speaker 1: 03:22 and I understand that some studies have put a price tag of $300 million to really properly address all the issues involving Balboa Park. If the 9.5 million that was earmarked for the Plaza de Panama project is reinvested for improvements, which doesn't sound like is enough money to fix everything, uh, how do you prioritize which areas will get fixed first?

Speaker 2: 03:44 That is an excellent question. Various stakeholders within and outside of Balboa Park have their own ideas about what best to do with a, with that CIP money, I think we've kind of coalesced, or the Babel park institutions, the leadership Balbo Park Philanthropists have kind of coalesced about, let's see, let's get the mundane, but absolutely unnecessary, uh, issue of the, of the restrooms addressed. Uh, uh, that being said, there are also some, I think a triage is a good term. So identifying those buildings that are really under threat, if they're compromised, it will compromise the collections and the, uh, the programming of some of the institutions. I think those need to need to rise on the level of the list of priorities as well. There are some fundamental improvements to Babel park that I think just about everyone can agree on. So perhaps we can focus there first.

Speaker 1: 04:30 Maybe the restroom's right. There we go. What can lease holders of the museums do to stay ahead of any repairs? What can they, and what can the city do to raise funds and, and manage those risks?

Speaker 2: 04:41 I'll take the latter part first. How about that? Because that's the bigger issue. Uh, and this is just something historic for bowel ballpark and frankly for most of the parks and the, and the city's a park system is a reliable revenue stream that stays with that park. And Balboa Park of course is kind of unique because it is a, it has a, it's a developed park. It's an open space park and a developed park. So the infrastructure maintenance needs are a uniquely different and immensely larger than most other parks in I'm in San Diego. So the challenges is the city and you know, uh, we're in partnership with nonprofits of philanthropic community identifying revenue sources that are meaningful, that can be guaranteed to stay in Balboa Park. We just don't have that right now. There are some ideas out there, uh, that I think should be explored. I think we need to approach it with an open mind and we need to start thinking much more creatively and critically about those opportunities.

Speaker 2: 05:41 So jade, you had the other question. The other part of your question was what can the lease holders do? You know what they're going to continue doing. What they've been trying to do for decades since they've been in the park is just taking care of their, part of the responsibility on the interiors. And actually, you know, I'm proud of my, my colleagues in the park, uh, the fellow institutions in the park that are taking care of, of their programming and their interior interior maintenance, uh, it's estimated that a, just, you know, within the last couple of decades, the institutions themselves, I put $18 million into the buildings themselves, at least holders and much of that they weren't required to do from the leases. They just did it because it had to be done and there was no money at the city. So do you think that taxpayers need to make more of an investment here or do you think that tax dollars just haven't been allocated in a way that's impactful?

Speaker 2: 06:30 Yes. On the first part of your question, look, Balboa Park is owned by the citizens of San Diego. It is a city, it is a municipal park of the city of San Diego. If we have standards and expectations for our municipal parks that are ostensibly owned by the citizens, there's a responsibility there. Now it's up to us as stakeholders, internal stakeholders and lovers of Balboa Park to raise the awareness within the community that the users of Balboa Park are the owners of Balboa Park. And we're loving it to death. Right? And if we want to continue loving it and passing it along to future generations to ensure that what we inherited from our predecessors is just as magnificent, if not better than a, the way that we found it. Uh, that's, that's our responsibility. So we need to raise the awareness that, uh, Hey Ababil park is worth supporting. Uh, and uh, that includes public investment. The other part of your question, jade, was, uh, you know, where are they just as the tax dollars just not being spent? Well, hmm. Government not spending tax dollars. Well, heaven forbid, a, that's very subjective. Uh, but uh, you, you could certainly make the case work to be done. Certainly I've been speaking with John Belt House Executive Director of the nonprofit friends about the Allen Park. John, thanks so much for joining us. Thank you so much for having me.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.