Basketball Legend Joins Plaza de Panama Team

The conceptual image of the Plaza de Panama with a new, parking-free design. Balboa Park

The campaign to turn the heart of Balboa Park into a pedestrian mall took on a higher profile on Wednesday.

Hometown basketball great Bill Walton has joined the cause, and became a walking tour guide for the proposal. Walton spent a lot of his youth in Balboa Park, especially at Muni Gym, and has lived near its northern edge for 32 years.

He walks and bikes there virtually every day -- and doesn't like to put up with all the cars, trucks and buses that roll through it.

"Balboa Park is the center, it's the core, it's the cultural spirit and being of who we are and what we stand for," Walton said. "Over the years, Balboa Park has changed. Balboa Park is not as nice as it could be."

Bill Walton thinks Balboa Park could be nicer with Plaza de Panama plan. (Published Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2011)

Walton strolled the El Prado corridor on Wednesday along with Mayor Jerry Sanders, Qualcomm co-founder Irwin Jacobs and a gaggle of media folks, touting the virtues of getting vehicle traffic out of Plaza de Panama.

The goal of Jacobs' $25 million fundraising campaign is to restore the area to its original pedestrian-friendly motif in time for the centennial celebration of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition.

Sanders and Jacobs announced that starting Sept. 17, project supporters will give late-morning walking tours of the area on the third Saturday of each month.

An underground parking garage that will charge $5 daily is proposed to relieve traffic from Plaza de Panama. An environmental study was approved Tuesday. (Published Tuesday, July 19, 2011)

But plans for a vehicle bypass route leading to a planned $14 million, bond-financed underground garage behind the Organ Pavilion have sparked protests from preservationists and environmentalists. They're giving their own public walking tours, in opposition to the project.

"People are shocked, and they say they really hate the plan," said Bruce Coons, executive director of Save Our Heritage Organisation. "Because the park as we know it is going to be transformed into a totally difference landscape than we know today ... We think we can show what it actually will look like, instead of just the pretty pictures."

SOHO has filed suit to set aside a 'memorandum of understanding' between the city and Jacobs' Plaza de Panama Committee. A court hearing is set for Sept. 28.

Balboa Park Proposed Renovation