Public Says Balboa Renovations Stink

Plaza de Panama plans get mixed reviews

The historic restoration of Balboa Park has nothing to do with history, according to locals contributing to the San Diego Architectural Foundation's program Orchids and Onions Awards.

Guests to the SDAF website nominated the Plaza de Panama plans as one of the “Onions” of historic preservation in San Diego for their annual awards. Orchids are awarded to buildings with exceptional design and onions are awarded to those less exceptional designs.

Consequently, the plan was also nominated as an Orchid in the miscellaneous category for its considerations of safety and access.

The controversial Plaza de Panama plan, backed by Qualcomm cofounder Irwin Jacobs, aims to turn Balboa Park into a car-free zone. The plan includes a remote parking lot south of the Spreckles Organ Pavilion and additional public space for pedestrians.

The nomination says the plan would “destroy” parts of the park to implement the new off-ramp from the Cabrillo Bridge and cause traffic build-up:

“Mr. Jacobs and Mayor Sanders are willing to severely compromise the historic integrity and aesthetics of Balboa Park in order to build a massive, un-needed and unwanted concrete off-ramp off of the individually historically-designated Cabrillo Bridge,” the nomination states.

But the contributors also say the plan fulfills a much needed removal of cars from the center of the park:

“Our city has been talking about removing cars from the heart of the park for over 50 years, and the Plaza de Panama project is our best chance to achieve this long-standing goal.”

The mixed feelings from the public regarding the proposed plan are indicative of the plan’s reception among community members and politicians. More recently, the Save Our Heritage Organisation sued the San Diego Superior Court over an environmental review of the park. SOHO has fought rigidly against the plan’s bridge, paid parking garage and other alterations to the park.

Comments on the Onion nomination of the park range from critical to supportive as well.

“The asphalt and guardrails Balboa By-Pass Bridge to valet parking idea stinks,” said commenter Fred Williams. “Instead of removing cars from the park, it makes traffic permanent.”

Voting to the public has closed, and a jury of designers will determine which structures are the winning Orchids and Onions. There will be one People's Choice Award. The remaining will be determined by the jury. The announcement will be made Oct. 27.

Check out other Onions and Orchids on the SDAF’s nomination page.

A previous version of this article stated that the SDAF was responsible for the nominations and opinions of the public contributors. The current version reflects the changes. -- Ed.

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