City Council Approves Balboa Park's Plaza de Panama Project

The $79 million project that would create acres of pedestrian-friendly public space in Balboa Park.

The City Council has approved the Balboa Park Plaza de Panama project, a $79 million project that would create acres of pedestrian-friendly public space in the iconic park.

Nearly 200 people filled the City Council chambers and spilled into the halls Monday afternoon to voice their opinions on the controversial project. Ninety people from each side spoke.

The Plaza de Panama Project would create more than six acres of car-free parkland, gardens and plazas, an underground paid parking structure with a 2.2-acre rooftop park, a pedestrian bypass bridge and other accessibility improvements.

Charles Kaminski, who is opposed to the project, said he think the project has not been vetted enough.

"I think it's premature I think it needs more study and think as someone told me there's nothing wrong with the bridge, it's not sick it doesn't a bypass," he said.

Those in favor of the project, like San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, say the project would help preserve the park for decades to come.

"It's our responsibility as those before us did to ensure that the park endures for the next century," he said.

While environmentalists and historic preservationists fought it through city hall and filed legal challenges, dozens of public parking spaces that drivers jockeyed for were removed -- which opened up more of the plaza to pedestrians and cyclists.

The plan carried an original price tag of $45 million -- to be met by donations from Qualcomm billionaire Irwin Jacobs and other philanthropists.

The now $79 million price tag will still include private philanthropy contributions in addition to City funds earmarked for capital projects in combination with parking revenues. Of the total price tag, $49 million would be City funds. 

After a spirited discussion, Councilmembers voted to approve the project. 

“We can now seize this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to transform San Diego’s crown jewel for the next century,” said Faulconer in a statement. “This public-private partnership will reclaim the heart of Balboa Park for pedestrians and return the Plaza de Panama to its original grandeur. With the support from the City Council and great civic leaders like Dr. Irwin Jacobs, the grand restoration of Balboa Park can finally begin.”

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