A $40 million plan to take traffic out of the heart of Balboa Park has been dealt a legal setback.
Critics say they hope the Superior Court ruling by Judge Judith Hayes will prod the plan's backers -- led by Qualcomm founder Irwin Jacobs -- to consider other options.
The Plaza de Panama project is among the preparations for the centennial celebration of Balboa Park's 1915 Panama-California Exposition, which helped raise San Diego's national and worldwide prominence at the time.
But historic preservationists say it's misguided.
"There are probably ten really good alternatives that we could wholeheartedly support," says Bruce Coons, executive director of Save Our Heritage Organisation (SOHO), which filed the lawsuit.
"And there are probably ten or 15 that are much better than this one," Coons adds, "that would probably not have the opposition that this one does."
The plan in dispute calls for a for a vehicle bypass route off Cabrillo Bridge to an underground parking garage covered with lawns, south of the Organ Pavilion.
There'd be a daily $5 parking fee to pay off construction bonds.
But the legal ruling won by SOHO declares that a 'memorandum of understanding' between the city and the project sponsors jumped the gun on environmental studies.
The plaintiffs now want the plans to go back to the drawing board.
"(The City Council is) supposed to, legally, pick the less damaging alternative, the one that meets most of the project goals -- but not all of the project goals -- but is more environmentally sound," Coons says.
Jacobs and Mayor Jerry Sanders were on hand when the memorandum of understanding was pitched to the City Council last July.
"This is really change, and change in Balboa Park is really difficult," Sanders told NBC-7 San Diego on that day. "But it's something that if we want to give our children and their children a gift for the next 100 years, this change clears the cars out of the park which were never supposed to be there anyway."
Coons says Jacobs has resisted compromise, and needs to do some consensus-building.
"It's been 'My way or the highway' -- or 'My way IN the highway,' in this case," he says. "And they have not wanted to look at any other plan. It's been extremely destructive, this attitude."
Early indications from city hall Monday were that the ruling will be appealed, but a spokesman for City Attorney Jan Goldsmith says there's no confirmation of that course of action.
Meantime, the city released a draft environmental report on 13 alternatives traffic plans.
It faces a four-step approval process ending with the City Council in July.