Get On With Balboa Park Makeover PDF 

By U-T San Diego

An environmental report released this week covers, in stupefying detail, more than a dozen separate ideas for how to remake the core of Balboa Park into a more pedestrian-friendly place. And it creates a conclusive path right back to where this whole issue started in 2010: The $40 million redo championed by business and civic leader Irwin Jacobs and Mayor Jerry Sanders is the best way to eliminate the cars and parking that now make the park’s core seem more like an auto mall than the heart of San Diego’s crown jewel.

The report, nearly 1,000 pages in all, makes clear that none of the 13 alternatives to the Jacobs proposal that were subjected to in-depth analysis, nor any of the eight other alternatives that were rejected early on, would achieve what the Jacobs plan would achieve – namely, eliminating the traffic and parking lots that clog the Plaza de California, the Plaza de Panama and the esplanade leading to the Spreckels Organ Pavilion while still creating significantly more parking elsewhere.

To be sure, according to the report, one of the 13 alternatives would be environmentally superior to the Jacobs plan. But then it would still leave traffic flowing through the two plazas, so what would be the point?

And, the report says, there would be a price to be paid for the Jacobs plan: The construction of the modern “Centennial Bridge” needed to divert traffic around the plazas would mean unmitigable change to the historic entrance to the plazas off the Cabrillo Bridge. Yes, as has been known all along, that is the price. It’s not a cheap one, either. But it is worth paying.

The Jacobs proposal, besides achieving what zillions of people have wanted to achieve for 50 years, is a bargain. Of the $40 million projected cost, Jacobs, the king of philanthropists in San Diego, has pledged to raise $25 million privately to help pay for it. The remaining $15 million would come from a bond issued by the city that would be repaid with revenue from a $5 fee for parking in a new 798-space garage to be built, largely underground, behind the Organ Pavilion. In other words, it would cost taxpayers nothing.

Bruce Coons, executive director of the Save Our Heritage Organisation, which has led the fight against the Jacobs proposal, said he had not yet had time to digest the environmental impact report. But he said he still hopes for a compromise that would not require construction of the controversial Centennial Bridge.

The reality is there is no such compromise that would do what most people want done.

In the unhappy tradition of big projects in San Diego, that could portend legal action. But the hope is that the park’s makeover can be completed in time for the 100th anniversary celebrations of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition, the event that began the transformation of Balboa Park into what it is today.

Time is short. There is now no reason for delay.

Follow billwalton on Twitter



What is your favorite Walton quote?