Balboa Park Makeover Moves Forward

A proposed $40 million makeover of Balboa Park moves forward after a crucial vote by the San Diego City Council.

The council approved a memorandum of understanding for the Plaza de Panama plan to restore the park to pedestrian use in time for the Centennial Celebration of the 1915 Panama-California International Exposition.

The plan is to replace the cars, roadways and parking spaces that currently cram the park’s inner core with landscaping, trees and pedestrian-friendly gathering places.

The vote clears the way for an environmental impact study.

“I’m heartened by this approval, which marks the most significant progress yet toward reclaiming a piece of San Diego’s history through restoring the Plaza de Panama to pedestrian use,” Mayor Jerry Sanders said in a written statement early Wednesday. “This is something our citizens have wanted for decades, and we’re going to work to ensure this doesn’t become yet another plan gathering dust on a shelf.”

Qualcomm founder and Plaza de Panama Committee Chair Irwin Jacobs has volunteered to do the heavy lifting on fundraising for the $33 million makeover that includes an 800-space partly underground parking structure.

The proposed makeover appeared to be in jeopardy after the city’s Rules Committee recently submitted a vote of “no confidence” in the project. They were critical of a contract outlining the Plaza de Panama parking plan

Save Our Heritage Organisation (SOHO) opposes the Plaza de Panama project, and sent a Memorandum of Understanding to the Rules Committee. The organization is critical of the bypass bridge, paid parking garage and other alterations to the park.

Jacobs threatened to pull his support of the project and Mayor Sanders quickly came to the plan's defense.

On Tuesday, protestors voiced their concerns staging a demonstration prior to the council's vote.

In the end, councilmembers voted 7 to 1 in favor of researching the impact of the proposed makeover of the Jacobs plan as well as looking into other alternatives.

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