High court clears way for Jacobs’ Balboa Park plan
By Roger Showley The San Diego Union-Tribune
Qualcomm cofounder Irwin Jacobs’ $45 million plan for Balboa Park received final approval this week from the state Supreme Court, City Attorney Jan Goldsmith said Friday.
However, Jacobs did not respond to questions Friday if he would renew his original funding commitment.
The court refused to accept an appeal from the Save Our Heritage Organisation to a lower court ruling and thus cleared the way for the plan to move forward.
“It is gratifying to know that the (state) Court of Appeal and now the Supreme Court agree that we were right all along the way,” Goldsmith said in a statement.
The plan, first proposed in 2010, included an 800-space parking garage south of the Spreckels Organ Pavilion, the construction of a bypass bridge from the Cabrillo Bridge and the clearing of traffic from the Plaza de California in front of the San Diego Museum of Man and the Plaza de Panama in front of the San Diego Museum of Art.
Superior Court Judge Timothy Taylor ruled in SOHO’s favor, agreeing that the city’s historic preservation ordinance would not allow the Jacobs plan, but the appellate court reversed that ruling in May.
Since Taylor’s ruling, Jacobs continued his support of the legal action but did not pledge to renew his funding. Former Mayor Bob Filner, elected in 2012, cleared the Plaza de Panama of cars and parking, and Caltrans spent nearly $40 million to restore the Cabrillo Bridge. The San Diego Zoo recently completed a 600-space parking garage northeast of the Old Globe Theatre, freeing up more public spaces in its Park Boulevard parking lot.
Spokesmen for the Balboa Park Conservancy and Balboa Park Cultural Partnership said they remain supportive of the Jacobs plan and hope it can be revived as a way to increase parking and decrease car-pedestrian conflicts in the park.
“We’re willing to do that in collaboration with our other friends in the park,” said Carol Chang, the conservancy’s board president.
She said she has spoken to Jacobs several times in recent months to reiterate her group’s ongoing support. She said her board backs the project that the City Council approved three years ago. It is now part of the city’s official park master plan.
Peter Comiskey, executive director of the partnership that includes most park museums and institutions, said his group’s support has never wavered.
“We think it’s a good plan and would like to see it succeed,” he said.
SOHO Executive Director Bruce Coons said legal challenges may not be over.
“We believe the bond for the paid parking structure requires a public vote,” Coons said.
Scott Williams, attorney for the Plaza de Panama Committee, said the parking garage bond does not require voter approval since it doesn’t involve city general funds, but he said legal issues might arise if the Jacobs plan is not implemented as currently approved.
“Everyone’s been in a holding pattern, waiting for the litigation to conclude,” Williams said. “Now that that has happened, I think Dr. Jacobs and the Plaza de Panama Committee as a whole will engage in discussions and think about their alternatives in moving forward. I don’t know what their thoughts are at this time. I don’t know what decision they will make.”
Vicki Estrada, a landscape architect who wrote the park’s 1989 master plan and aided in fine-tuning the Jacobs plan, said she hoped the Jacobs plan would at least result in building the garage and closing the Cabrillo Bridge to car traffic.
“All sorts of stuff is going on behind the scenes,” she added.
Preservationists had complained that the bypass bridge would alter the look of the park’s west entrance and some members of the public complained that the new garage would charge for parking.
But supporters said the Jacobs plan would return several acres of roadways and parking lots to park usage and improve the park experience.
Another plan, also on hold, called for building a much larger underground garage parallel to Park Boulevard, turn the zoo lot into exhibit space and provide a better link between the zoo and El Prado, the park’s main avenue.