My column is usually about something in Lemon Grove. This time the subject is 10 miles down the road, but it affects everyone in our city. With your permission, let me share my concern about the San Diego City Council’s decision to approve the Plaza de Panama project for Balboa Park.
Even though the plan has a catchy name and will ban cars from the very center of the park, it is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. While I would support removing automobiles from the Plaza de Panama, I cannot agree to removing 70 feet of the Cabrillo Bridge to create a concrete off-ramp. The planned road would circle the Museum of Man, leading to a massive parking structure. Alcazar Garden would be turned into a waiting area for valet customers.
The Laurel Street entrance leading to Cabrillo Bridge is a beautiful, grand introduction to Balboa Park. It should not be sacrificed so that automobiles can have ease of access to a paid parking garage. Do we really want to pay to park in our park? Does everyone realize this will force the zoo to start charging for parking? Did you know, of the 260 new spaces gained, 100 will be just for valet parkers? And can someone explain to me why we are trying to bring more cars into Balboa Park in the first place?
This is not the first time San Diego’s mayor and council have offered an ill-conceived plan for the people’s park. A good friend reminded me of this little gem from the late 1970s: The council was considering cutting down the giant Moreton Bay fig tree behind the Natural History Museum to install a McDonald’s restaurant. George Marston's son got involved, and helped organize a group effort to fill the branches of the tree with schoolchildren on the day of the cut. Fortunately, just before that date, the council saw the folly of its idea, and cancelled the plan. The tree was saved.
I love Balboa Park. My earliest memories in life are intertwined with this park, starting at age three on the carousel with my mother urging me to grab the brass ring, to many a large family picnic along Sixth Avenue, always with croquet and a barbecue. This is a very personal issue for me. I have led many groups on walking tours of Balboa Park, helping to share the unique beauty of this very special place. In my opinion, it is San Diego’s greatest created asset.
Let me challenge anyone who does support this plan to spend 10 minutes in Alcazar Garden reflecting on its tranquility and beauty. Then, spend another 10 imagining the proposed roadway right next to the garden. Picture the current tiny parking lot as a drop-off point for valets and deliveries. Most likely, many of the trees in that area would also be missing. The magic of the garden would be forever diminished.
You need to be informed on this issue. Look at the pros, the cons, and make your own decision on the proposed plan. I believe we need pruning shears, not a meat clever approach, to our most valuable 1,400-acre treasure. We have to do better.
Balboa Park is packed with people on weekends. How many of them have an opinion about this? How many could fill Cabrillo Bridge for a rally twice a month, until the powers that be get the message? I ask the good people of Lemon Grove—and all of San Diego—who's up for it?