The top candidates to represent the City Council district that includes Balboa Park both say they’ll push to get the park dedicated funding to fix its growing needs.

District 3 candidates Anthony Bernal and Chris Ward say the park – beset with crumbling buildings and a lack of cash to implement plans approved decades ago – deserves its own pot of money, and at the very least more city investment.

“Until there’s a dedicated funding source for Balboa Park, it’s always going to fight for funding,” Bernal said.

Balboa Park competes with the city’s other regional parks for funding, and the lack of dedicated cash to support it has helped bolster a needs list estimated to total more than $300 million.

Bernal and Ward want that to change.

Bernal’s already decided a bond bankrolled by a tax hike would work best.

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A Balboa Park bond, which would need to be approved by two-thirds of voters, is the best route to investment in the park for years to come, he said.

He acknowledged that would be a hurdle.

“It is a high threshold but I believe that there are stakeholders in every neighborhood of the city that could get on board and support this regional asset,” Bernal said.

Bernal also wants to explore other funding options and help identify top priorities for the park. He said he’d work with the city’s independent budget analyst and staffers in the city’s Park and Recreation and Public Works departments to do that.

Ward isn’t committed to any particular funding option just yet.

He pledged to form a working group in his first 100 days in office to explore sustainable funding options for the park.

Ward said the Balboa Park stakeholders pulled together for that review would also prioritize the park’s needs. For instance, should the city bankroll a conversion of the city lot at 20th and B streets into parkland, as the 1989 park master plan envisioned, or focus on infrastructure needs?

“I know that I, as a new Council member, I would be foolish to think I know better than (longtime stakeholders),” Ward said.

Ideally, Ward said, the group could identify a dedicated funding source for the park but he’d be open to other alternatives.

He’s not convinced a bond that would solely support Balboa Park could pass.

Yet that concept’s been informally floated in multiple venues recently.

David Lundin, a prominent critic of the Balboa Park Centennial debacle, has started a fledging group to promote Balboa Park’s many needs and potentially, a November 2018 bond vote.

City Councilman Mark Kersey has also publicly questioned whether at least some city property tax money that now flows to the San Diego Zoo could help bankroll a Balboa Park bond. A deputy city attorney has said that wouldn’t be possible without a public vote or the zoo’s cooperation.

    This article relates to: Balboa Park, Must Reads, Politics

    Written by Lisa Halverstadt

    Lisa writes about San Diego city and county governments. She welcomes story tips and questions. Contact her directly at or 619.325.0528.

    Richard Gardiol
    Richard Gardiol

    Anthony Bernal is the understudy for our current good for nothing Councilman Todd Gloria, and Todd Gloria is well known for failing to take any leadership in the management of Balboa Park. From the failure to secure funds for maintenance to the complete failure of the Centennial Celebration you can count on Todd Gloria to be missing from the action. If Anthony Bernal was going to do something for Balboa Park, as a Gloria lieutenant, he could have; but he will wait for the same magical pot of bond money that his boss is before doing anything.

    Todd Gloria and Anthony Bernal are all about selling out San Diego to developers and gaining election to the next office. They don't have the time to worry about Balboa Park when they are busy greasing the skids for potential donors.

    Chris Ward need not fear looking foolish in a Council Chamber already filled with charlatans and nincompoops. We could use a new face with new ideas; unfortunately Mr. Ward doesn't seem to have any ideas at all.

    Judith Swink
    Judith Swink subscriber

    A City of San Diego bond issue would mean only City of SD property tax payers would be the revenue source for paying off the bonds. Balboa Park is a REGIONAL Resource Park, meaning the San Diego region and not solely the City of San Diego. Users come from throughout the County and from well beyond the SD region. It seems unfair to me for only City taxpayers to be considered for paying off bonds.

    The City Council should live up to the promises made by Council when the Balboa Park Master Plan was adopted (see Don Wood's comment). However, the County of San Diego also should dedicate an equivalent funding source because the park serves all of the County constituents as well as residents in the City.

    Cindy Conger
    Cindy Conger subscriber

    $100 million/annually, minimum, people. Our city plans to 'give it away', again...and its not to the Chargers this time. Why isn't anyone talking about it?

    Janet Shelton
    Janet Shelton subscriber

    This is the same story as the school funding bond piece.  Stadiums=sexy.  Maintenance=boring.  And I'll use the same analogy:  It's like having a face lift while letting your teeth rot. 

    The park is a valuable asset for the public and for attracting tourists.  When I take visitors to the local attractions, their favorites are the beaches and the park.  But when there is money available or supposed to be available for the park, politicians say, "Wow, money for all my friends.  Money for my pet projects.  We'll fix the park later." .

    john stump
    john stump subscriber

    Our City park, transformed into a hoteliers' tourist attraction, as Balboa Park needs immediate attention. Our Park serves the have and the have not's. 

    Big endowed attractions like Zoo Global and the Old Globe corporations have plenty of cash reserves. Place huge demands on the park's and the City's infrastructure and Budget, but contribute little directly to he park's upkeep   Zoo Global even receives a $12 million dollar annual blank check from the Mayor.  Its time for these flush members to put something back into the park family budget.

    Talk of a Bond or government borrowing should only be considered for immediate emergency  needs and financed on no more than a ten year pay back schedule.  Let's not take out a forty year mortgage and pay more in interest than the repairs that we gained.  Before the bond debt was paid off the same repairs would be needed again and we would have to have a never ending revolving door of borrowing.  This credit card solution only profits the bankers.

    The City Budget spends about $16 million dollars, each year on our park's maintenance - $12 million for Zoo Global and $4 million for the rest.  I think we need to consider the needs of the resident users of the park, from the surrounding neighborhoods and our City in general. These are the true stakeholders not just the private institutions that have boll weeviled into special sweetheart deals.  The residents fund the City Budget and the institutions pay no taxes and very little rents. 

    If the park was responsibly managed, for the City residents, then each park tenant would contribute to the general upkeep of the park based on their revenues in excess of expenses and impacts to the park and City's Budget.  The Model Railroad Museum would contribute based on its visitor's count and Zoo Global would contribute based on its 5,000,000+ visitors, each year.  I urge each reader to visit the free public site GUIDE STAR  and check out the balance sheets and tax returns for the park organizations that  have gotten fat off the park , but contribute nothing to its upkeep.  Why should residents be taxed more for institutions that have private out of town Board's of Directors, with no local control or governance? 

    We all need to look at the park as our family house  and put into the family budget for its repair and maintenance.

    Don Wood
    Don Wood subscriber

    So Bernal thinks the best way to pay for all the deferred maintenance in Balboa Park is to float another bond? He needs to study history on the issue. In 1991, the mayor and city council adopted an update to the Balboa Park Master Plan, along with a one cent increase in the city's TOT taxes, which included language requiring those funds to be used only for park maintenance and implementation of the updated master plan. The city doesn't need to float a new bond to do this. All it requires is a mayor and city council members who have the backbone to honor the city's promises to its voters and taxpayers. It's a matter of the city's priorities, not a lack of revenues. How do the candidate say they would convince the mayor and other council members to honor the city's previous promises to Balboa Park?

    Kevin Swanson
    Kevin Swanson subscribermember

    Balboa Park has quite a lot of "Stakeholders," including those formed to fight changes to the Park that they see as adverse to its future such as Citizens Coordinate for Century 3 (Route 163 changes); Committee of 100 (Building demolition for Timkin and Museum of Art Extension; Balboa Park Heritage Association (reaction to Balboa Park Celebration, Inc. fiasco) as examples. 

    The "official" Balboa Park Conservancy was created by City Politicians (including Jerry Sanders), as was Balboa Park Celebration, Inc. as nonprofits with preferential status for City Contracts. The Balboa Park Conservancy remains a closed book to the Public, refusing to open its meetings based upon their claim that they have not taken any Public money and are not subject to Brown Act regulations - even though they were awarded an exclusive contract (no competitive bidding process) to run December Nights. Balboa Park Celebration, Inc. was found to be required to comply with Brown Act because it was funded with Public Funding, yet was found to have spent almost $3M in Public Funds for salaries and contracts that were not in compliance with City Funded Contracts. Balboa Park Celebration, Inc. simply closed up shop and returned $250K back to The City. No one has ever been held accountable for that fiasco, as the Independent City Auditor found that the contract with The City was so vague that almost anything could have been contracted by them with no oversight or consequences. 

    Has Voice of San Diego seen any Contract between Balboa Park Conservancy and The City? As the designated favored nonprofit created by The City to get around Brown Act meeting requirements, are they complying with City purchasing practices? Have they opened any of their meetings to The Public?

    Mayor Faulconer let the Public down on Balboa Park in his role as a City Council Member, first by voting "Yes" in supporting the Balboa Park Celebration, Inc. exclusive contract to give away Public funds, and second by failing to hold them accountable through oversight as Chair of the City Council's Audit Committee. He continues to gloss over the infrastructure issues facing Balboa Park and The City using flowery phrases.

    Personally I look forward to the Challengers in the Mayoral Race of Lori Saldana and Ed Harris (as the top names in the race) coming up with better solutions (and implementing them), without the "Puppeteers behind the Curtain" that Mayor Faulconer appears to have as he runs for Mayor (and perhaps for Governor in 2 years).

    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann subscribermember

    Parking lots in Balboa Park fill up completely on a regular basis because they're free and the City Council still can't figure out how to finance the park's maintenance?

    That would be like McDonald's giving away 100 free hamburgers every day and wondering why people are camping outside waiting for the doors to open every morning.

    paul jamason
    paul jamason subscribermember

    @Derek Hofmann I agree with Derek.  If the city needs funding for the park, why not charge for parking?  Many other municipalities do this with their parks.  In some cases they only charge non-residents.

    Charging for parking would increase parking capacity by increasing turnover, reduce circling for spaces (and associated congestion/emissions/pollution), and encourage alternative transit use.  Several bus lines, including the new Rapid bus, serve the park.  I usually bike there, and see many people walking in too.

    Richard Gardiol
    Richard Gardiol

    @paul jamason @Derek Hofmann  Yes on charging non residents of San Diego County for parking in Balboa Park. It would solve a lot of problems, while the Park remains free to local citizens.