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Reviving Jacobs' park plan less likely

City Attorney says reviving $45 million plan could take 4 months, barring new legal challenges

Written by Roger Showley
1/31/13 - San Diego Union Tribune - Original article

Irwin Jacobs unveils his Plaza de Panama plan for Balboa Park in August 2010. A judge ruled against the project in February 2013. - Peggy Peattie

The slim hope of reviving Irwin Jacobs' $45 million plan to clear cars and traffic from the center of Balboa Park grew even slimmer Thursday.

City Council President Todd Gloria, whose district includes the park, said it is "unfortunately apparent" that reconsideration of the plan could take too long for it to be built in time for the January 2015 start of the centennial celebration of the park's Panama-California Exposition.

Jacobs, cofounder of Qualcomm, had spent $8 million on a plan to rid the Plaza de Panama in front of the San Diego Museum of Art of parking spaces and traffic and turn the space into a pedestrian-only zone as it was for the 1915-16 fair.

The plan included construction of a bypass off the Cabrillo Bridge and an 800-space parking garage south of the Spreckels Organ Pavilion. The result would have been a pedestrian-only zone for the entire length of El Prado and more than enough new parking spaces to make up for the lost spots in the plaza.

The Plaza de California in front of the San Diego Museum of Man would have been free of cars and the parking lot behind the Alcazar Garden south of that museum would have been a new drop-off, valet and handicapped parking zone.

The project, estimated to cost $45 million including $15 million in parking revenue bonds for the garage, stalled when the Save Our Heritage Organisation challenged the plan and Superior Court Judge Timothy Taylor ruled in February that the city's own historic preservation ordinance prevented implementation.

Gloria asked City Attorney Jan Goldsmith to see if the ordinance could be amended to permit the project to go forward.

Goldsmith said in an opinion released Thursday that the ordinance could be amended, but only if Jacobs or another sponsor asked the city to do so. Council members could not make such proposal because they would sit in a quasi-judicial setting and have to remain impartial until they vote.

Goldsmith also said Mayor Bob Filner, an opponent of the plan, could not veto a revised ordinance and SOHO could not circulate petitions to put it on a future city ballot.

"Litigation can be filed on any of it," Goldsmith said in an interview. "It can mean more lawsuits, sure, of course, this is San Diego."

SOHO Executive Director Bruce Coons said his group surely would challenge any ordinance change in court and he said a followup court appearance is scheduled April 12 to deal one of the issues in the original lawsuit. He said he has until early May to file an appeal to Taylor's ruling on related matters, but read into Gloria's statement that the Jacobs plan is dead and buried.

"I think this is a positive thing," Coons said. "It finally allows 2015 (celebration plans) to go ahead. It was hard with implementation in the way, not knowing if would be under construction or not."

Meanwhile, he said meetings have been going on with the mayor to arrive at a different solution to the traffic-pedestrian conflicts in the park. Filner had announced plans to set aside $500,000 in the city's current budget for a possible plaza renovation, but his office could not say where those talks stand. Coons said he hears a recommendation may be ready by the end of this month.

In his statement, Gloria said he would bring the project back for reconsideration "if any applicant comes forward to advocate for the project." But Jacobs has disbanded his Plaza de Panama Committee and shown no inclination in continuing a legal fight. No one else has stepped forward to pick up his cause.

"While it is helpful to understand there is a course to pursue," Gloria said, "it is unfortunately apparent that the improvements could not be complete in time for the 2015 centennial celebration because of the likelihood of additional litigation and the project's complexity and construction timeline."

Council President Todd Gloria on Plaza de Panama opinion. (Download pdf)



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