A superior court judge has ruled the San Diego City Council properly approved a project to improve pedestrian access within Balboa Park’s core – a plan that includes turning more roads into walkways and adding an underground parking structure to help ease traffic at the landmark.
The improvements -- known as the “Plaza de Panama Project” -- were approved by the City Planning Commission and approved twice by the San Diego City Council.
However, the project was delayed due to a lawsuit filed by the Save Our Heritage Organisation (SOHO). The group argued the project would require a Supplemental Environment Impact Report.
However, Gerry Braun, with the City of San Diego, said Superior Court Judge Gregory W. Pollack found Wednesday "no basis" for SOHO’s claim.
SOHO has been pushing for an alternative to the project called the "Lewis Plan." This proposal includes a network of new roadways on hillsides and canyons in Balboa Park and an underground parking garage below the Plaza de Panama.
Meanwhile, the Plaza de Panama Project includes rehabilitation of the Plaza, El Prado, Esplanade and the Spreckels Organ Pavilion Rooftoop Park. Currently, a road runs through the core of the park, including areas like El Prado West and Plaza de California at the entrance to the San Diego Museum of Man, but this would turn that road into a pedestrian-only walkway.
An alternate route would be established for motorists, leading to parking at the Alcazar Lot, the Palisades, and the Spreckels Organ Pavilion Lot. The Organ Pavilion lot would be transformed into an underground parking structure that, per the project’s website, “reclaims over two acres of park land.”
“Vehicles will not be permitted beyond the Museum of Man and the archway entrance to the park,” the website states.
Balboa Park’s tram, according to the site, will continue to operate, providing transportation from Inspiration Point to the center of the park: "Right now, the tram competes with cars. Once that’s no longer the case, the tram will operate far more efficiently."
In a press release, San Diego City Attorney Mara W. Elliott said the court has found that the city "correctly followed environmental law in seeking to improve one of the city’s greatest treasures."
“SOHO’s lawsuits have served no purpose other than to delay a widely supported project, and to drive up costs for the taxpayers,” Elliott added.
According to Gordon Kovtun, principal at KCM Group, which manages the construction of the project, said they have been waiting about eight years to clear this hurdle.
“We’re ready to get to work to reclaim 6.3 acres of park land, add much-needed parking and free the plazas from chronic vehicular traffic to allow more San Diego families and children to enjoy our city’s crown jewel,” Kovtun said in a press release.
Changes were made to Plaza de Panama in 2013, which removed parking from the Plaza. However, proponents of the master plan say those improvements were only “one objective” of the project, “which aims to remove cars from the entire central mesa.”
To learn more about the project, click here.