A Superior Court judge struck down a years-in-the-making plan to remake Balboa Park’s western entrance Monday. Judge Timothy Taylor upheld his earlier tentative ruling that the city broke its own law in approving the project.

After hearing 90 minutes of arguments from the city, a group of philanthropists who proposed the plan and an opposing historic preservation group on Friday, Taylor opined that the city had abused its discretion to approve the project, because the land in question already has a “reasonable beneficial use” — even if it is a parking lot — without the Plaza de Panama project. In approving the project last July, the City Council had to make a finding to the opposite.

Taylor responded to City Attorney Jan Goldsmith’s “animated” efforts on Friday to persuade the court to be less rigid in its interpretation of city code:


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… [the city] urged this court, in construing the phrase “there is no reasonable beneficial use of a property,” to apply a “flexible” approach …. The court remains unpersuaded. …

This does not mean, however, that the court interprets the key provision of the Municipal Code in a “rigid” or wooden fashion. But the “flexible” approach advocated by the City sounded to the court a lot like a suggestion that the court can find that statute can mean whatever the City wants it to mean if the court agrees (as it does here) with the City’s ultimate conclusion. The law would be rendered hollow indeed if this were the rule.

The judge said the preservation group, Save Our Heritage Organisation (SOHO), is entitled to an order that the city rescind the permits to build the Plaza de Panama project.

You can read the final ruling here.

It’s not clear what will happen to plans to clear cars from the Plaza de Panama in time for the 2015 celebration of a 1915-1916 exposition that made Balboa Park what we know it as today. Even the opponents, SOHO, desire to rid the plaza of parking, if not traffic. SOHO’s biggest contention with the project was its plan to append a new bridge to the end of the historic Cabrillo Bridge.

The judge reiterated his earlier sentiment that he came to his decision reluctantly:

Weighing heavily on the court is the very real possibility that this decision will cause [the Plaza de Panama Committee] to abandon its efforts to raise money for a long-desired project in Balboa Park, and at a minimum render very difficult a centennial celebration along the lines hoped for by so many.

I’m Kelly Bennett, reporter for VOSD. You can reach me directly at kelly.bennett@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0531.

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Disclosure: Voice of San Diego members and supporters may be mentioned or have a stake in the stories we cover. For a complete list of our contributors, click here.

    This article relates to: Balboa Park, Community, Government, News, Parks, Share

    Written by Kelly Bennett

    Kelly Bennett is a freelance contributor to Voice of San Diego. You can reach her directly at kelly@vosd.org.

    65 comments
    Erik Hanson
    Erik Hanson subscriber

    David: all that filler by the judge does not matter, and most of it could have been done without. It's as if the judge at Winona Ryder's shoplifting trial had said " you know, you are a very good looking woman and a fine actress, but you still took the items". Then while she was in jail she could have said "he really thinks I'm cute!" It's just fluff, no legal standing, and just a bone tossed to the defendants so they didn't hate him so much. You obviously fell for it.

    hardcover
    hardcover

    David: all that filler by the judge does not matter, and most of it could have been done without. It's as if the judge at Winona Ryder's shoplifting trial had said " you know, you are a very good looking woman and a fine actress, but you still took the items". Then while she was in jail she could have said "he really thinks I'm cute!" It's just fluff, no legal standing, and just a bone tossed to the defendants so they didn't hate him so much. You obviously fell for it.

    Richard Ross
    Richard Ross subscribermember

    Tentwelveight don't blame SOHO blame our past mayors and city council for not enacting the council approved removal of parking from the Plaza de Panama.

    Activist
    Activist

    Tentwelveight don't blame SOHO blame our past mayors and city council for not enacting the council approved removal of parking from the Plaza de Panama.

    Richard Ross
    Richard Ross subscribermember

    Obwoodie, if you looked at photos from 1915 other than the ones put out by Jacob's propagandist machine AKA consultants you would see cars in the plazas. The problem is the parking which SOHO agrees should be removed. I'm just thankful that people like you are not in Washington ,D.C or the Washington and Lincoln memorials might not still be there.

    Activist
    Activist

    Obwoodie, if you looked at photos from 1915 other than the ones put out by Jacob's propagandist machine AKA consultants you would see cars in the plazas. The problem is the parking which SOHO agrees should be removed. I'm just thankful that people like you are not in Washington ,D.C or the Washington and Lincoln memorials might not still be there.

    Richard Ross
    Richard Ross subscribermember

    plan made no provision for that.

    Activist
    Activist

    plan made no provision for that.

    ed2b7ada-733f-11e2-b679-2bcb354f2b04
    ed2b7ada-733f-11e2-b679-2bcb354f2b04

    Obwoodie: in answer to your questions, since SOHO has supported the preservation of Indian burial sites, our heritage does go back that far. And if you believe that SOHO supports parking in the Plaza, you certainly have not heard it from them, but one of the many people interested speeding that false rumor. Cars and trucks were allowed to drive through the Expo grounds at night and early mornings most days during the 1915 Expo, there was no parking, I believe, except for loading. Many thoughtful people today support the idea that traffic should be allowed to drive through part of the day and that it be blocked during most of the daylight hours, then the Plaza could be used in full during the day and still drop-offs and taxi traffic could happen for Globe shows, "Prado" dining and other nighttime events.

    Jim Jones
    Jim Jones subscriber

    I believe the park is fine as is, so let's try that instead. It's fair, equal and easy!

    Jim Jones
    Jim Jones

    I believe the park is fine as is, so let's try that instead. It's fair, equal and easy!

    Richard Ross
    Richard Ross subscribermember

    This city can pay for removing parking from the Plaza de Panama if it quit diverting money to studying things like if the earth is really round. They spend more money studying and restudying things that have already been studied. As for philanthropists such as Jacobs it would be a drop in the bucket of his tax write offs, the problem is he wouldn't get his name on an unneeded bypass bridge.

    Activist
    Activist

    This city can pay for removing parking from the Plaza de Panama if it quit diverting money to studying things like if the earth is really round. They spend more money studying and restudying things that have already been studied. As for philanthropists such as Jacobs it would be a drop in the bucket of his tax write offs, the problem is he wouldn't get his name on an unneeded bypass bridge.

    Joseph Hartman
    Joseph Hartman subscriber

    SOHO and friends, every time I see a car parked in the Plaza from this day forth I will blame you. This is your problem now, and until it is solved, you are to blame.

    tentwelveeight
    tentwelveeight

    SOHO and friends, every time I see a car parked in the Plaza from this day forth I will blame you. This is your problem now, and until it is solved, you are to blame.

    tentwelveeight
    tentwelveeight

    1989? I'm doing everything I can to avoid sarcasm here. Honestly, if this plan was so great and supported, why have 20+ years passed with no progress? I've no doubt you have an answer, and I'm sure it is very true, but there is no answer that can change this fact: while your plan has sat approved, generations of San Diegans have grown up or moved away or died without knowing the Plaza as anything but a parking lot. What will change now to make sure more generations don't have the same experience?

    Joseph Hartman
    Joseph Hartman subscriber

    1989? I'm doing everything I can to avoid sarcasm here. Honestly, if this plan was so great and supported, why have 20+ years passed with no progress? I've no doubt you have an answer, and I'm sure it is very true, but there is no answer that can change this fact: while your plan has sat approved, generations of San Diegans have grown up or moved away or died without knowing the Plaza as anything but a parking lot. What will change now to make sure more generations don't have the same experience?

    Nicolas Abel
    Nicolas Abel subscribermember

    It's sad that the people who have killed the Plaza de Panama project are proud of themselves.

    sandiegonick
    sandiegonick

    It's sad that the people who have killed the Plaza de Panama project are proud of themselves.

    Don Wood
    Don Wood subscriber

    cars transiting the plaza to the southwest corner next to the Mingei Museum. The only reason that hasn't already been done is that the politicians don't want to upset the wealthy backers of the park museums, who want close in parking for museum patrons and employees. Instead, they jumped into a $50 million plan to build a huge new bridge in the middle of the park, which turned out to be illegal. If the city council wants to move parking out of the Plaza de Panama, all they have to do is implement the existing park master plan. Let's see if they have the political courage to do so.

    Don Wood
    Don Wood

    cars transiting the plaza to the southwest corner next to the Mingei Museum. The only reason that hasn't already been done is that the politicians don't want to upset the wealthy backers of the park museums, who want close in parking for museum patrons and employees. Instead, they jumped into a $50 million plan to build a huge new bridge in the middle of the park, which turned out to be illegal. If the city council wants to move parking out of the Plaza de Panama, all they have to do is implement the existing park master plan. Let's see if they have the political courage to do so.

    Carolyn Chase
    Carolyn Chase subscribermember

    Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got til it's gone.... now would be a great time to call all parties in and work something out... and include Earth Day please...we do not deserve to be told to go away.

    Carolyn Chase
    Carolyn Chase

    Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got til it's gone.... now would be a great time to call all parties in and work something out... and include Earth Day please...we do not deserve to be told to go away.

    David Cohen
    David Cohen subscriber

    I believe parking can be removed from the PdP without building a bypass bridge or changing the Municipal Code or spending any substantial amount of money. Let's try it!

    fryefan
    fryefan

    I believe parking can be removed from the PdP without building a bypass bridge or changing the Municipal Code or spending any substantial amount of money. Let's try it!

    fryefan
    fryefan

    I am comfortable with our form of representative government, even if I don't always agree with what it does.

    David Cohen
    David Cohen subscriber

    I am comfortable with our form of representative government, even if I don't always agree with what it does.

    Sharon Gehl
    Sharon Gehl subscribermember

    There is something wrong with a City Municipal Code that is so extreme that the City can’t get a parking lot out of the middle of the Plaza de Panama, when everyone agrees we want it out of there. Note that the judge said none of the alternatives would meet the current code requirements either. The City Council needs to change the code, it’s too extreme.

    Sharon Gehl
    Sharon Gehl

    There is something wrong with a City Municipal Code that is so extreme that the City can’t get a parking lot out of the middle of the Plaza de Panama, when everyone agrees we want it out of there. Note that the judge said none of the alternatives would meet the current code requirements either. The City Council needs to change the code, it’s too extreme.

    Marisa Gallego
    Marisa Gallego subscriber

    So, who was going to keep the parking fees?

    imadjdiva
    imadjdiva

    So, who was going to keep the parking fees?

    Dave Douglas
    Dave Douglas

    But my congratulations. The valets love you.

    David Douglas
    David Douglas subscriber

    But my congratulations. The valets love you.

    Richard Ross
    Richard Ross subscribermember

    Hey Jr. speaking of myopia have you had your eyes checked recently? SOHO supports doing away with the parking lot in Plaza de Panama and it could be done with less $$$ than this city wastes in one week.

    Activist
    Activist

    Hey Jr. speaking of myopia have you had your eyes checked recently? SOHO supports doing away with the parking lot in Plaza de Panama and it could be done with less $$$ than this city wastes in one week.

    John Mcwilliams
    John Mcwilliams subscribermember

    Hopefully, this is not our lost opportunity to add a huge touch to our city landmark when resources are thankfully available- and in time for the centennial....

    jmcferris
    jmcferris

    Hopefully, this is not our lost opportunity to add a huge touch to our city landmark when resources are thankfully available- and in time for the centennial....

    PD Marshall
    PD Marshall subscriber

    You conveniently didn't respond to this simple question: Who is going to pay for any of SOHO's unworkable & naive plans???

    Richard Jr
    Richard Jr

    You conveniently didn't respond to this simple question: Who is going to pay for any of SOHO's unworkable & naive plans???

    PD Marshall
    PD Marshall subscriber

    I hope that everyone enjoys the parking lots and cars on El Prado that SOHO sued to protect. Preservation? Maybe preservation of roads and parking lots. Short-sighted SOHO; i.e. SSSOHO.

    Richard Jr
    Richard Jr

    I hope that everyone enjoys the parking lots and cars on El Prado that SOHO sued to protect. Preservation? Maybe preservation of roads and parking lots. Short-sighted SOHO; i.e. SSSOHO.

    john eisenhart
    john eisenhart subscriber

    I think we will see true leadership on this issue shortly. Consensus building is about win-win situation, not developing half-baked ideas from a power class and declaring them the One and Holy One for the common people.

    mr architect
    mr architect

    I think we will see true leadership on this issue shortly. Consensus building is about win-win situation, not developing half-baked ideas from a power class and declaring them the One and Holy One for the common people.

    Don Wood
    Don Wood

    Let's hope that Dr. Jacobs reconsiders and decides to invest the same about of money to help the city fix its backlog of park infrastructure deficiencies and implement the existing park master plan, which would remove parking from the PdP.

    Don Wood
    Don Wood subscriber

    Let's hope that Dr. Jacobs reconsiders and decides to invest the same about of money to help the city fix its backlog of park infrastructure deficiencies and implement the existing park master plan, which would remove parking from the PdP.

    Judith Swink
    Judith Swink subscriber

    This plan can still be implemented: remove the parking in the Plaza, install bollards to route traffic through the southwest corner of the plaza in front of the Mingei, and re-stripe parking in the Alcazar Garden parking lot to accommodate additional handicapped parking spaces. This all could be accomplished in a matter of days.

    LibraryLover
    LibraryLover

    This plan can still be implemented: remove the parking in the Plaza, install bollards to route traffic through the southwest corner of the plaza in front of the Mingei, and re-stripe parking in the Alcazar Garden parking lot to accommodate additional handicapped parking spaces. This all could be accomplished in a matter of days.

    Jim Jones
    Jim Jones subscriber

    Any plan carried out on the peoples park without a public vote supporting it is a travesty and an embarrassment to democracy.