The president of the Lemon Grove Historical Society praised a court ruling Monday that favored efforts to keep developers from building a proposed bridge to divert traffic around the Plaza de Panama and Plaza de California in Balboa Park.
On Monday, a San Diego Superior Court judge tossed out the San Diego City Council’s approval of the project. Judge Timothy Taylor ruled that the city council wrongly found that the project area has no reasonable beneficial use if the plan does not go forward – a finding needed to alter a historic resource.
The ruling came in a lawsuit filed by the Save Our Heritage Organisation, which opposes the proposed bridge. The bridge, a plan Qualcomm co-founder Irwin Jacobs was pushing, would be unsightly and jeopardize the park's historic status, according to SOHO.
Lemon Grove Historical Society President Helen Ofield called the ruling “good news.”
“The executive board of the Lemon Grove Historical Society supported SOHO's effort to save Balboa Park from a devastating, car-focused development that would have destroyed San Diego's crown jewel,” Ofield said. “We joined with dozens of historical societies, planning groups, preservationists, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the State Office of Historic Preservation, House of Pacific Relations and others to protest the Jacobs Plan to bring more cars than ever before in history into Balboa Park.”
Ofield said a much better way to keep cars out of the Plaza de Panama would be to close the Cabrillo Bridge to all traffic except for emergency vehicles, bicycles, and pedestrians. Across Park Boulevard to the east sits a largely empty parking lot that could be used as a pickup point for trolleys to transport the elderly, disabled, and parents with children in and out of the park, she said.
“This solution would rid the middle of the park of cars, prevent disruption to park activities that Jacobs' massive highway and bridge construction would cause, save millions of dollars and provide employment for trolley drivers and maintenance people,” she said.
In an interview with KPBS radio today, Jacobs, the project’s chief financial backer, said that he is now “just a bystander” and the effort is dead.
"We made a great effort, we came up with wonderful plans, we came up with an environmental impact review that passed all court muster," said Jacobs, who donated millions of dollars to shepherd the project through its design and environmental impact report. "At this point, it's over."
After the ruling was announced, San Diego Mayor Bob Filner reiterated his offer to get the various sides talking again in mediation.
In the radio interview, Jacobs said no alternatives proposed by SOHO would accomplish the goals set out for the project.
Bruce Coons, executive director of SOHO, followed Jacobs on the KPBS program and said a half-dozen other plans are "really good options" and another six or so would be acceptable.
"It's not a hard thing to do, it's really not," Coons said.
For those worried about traffic going through the plazas, Coons pointed out that the Cabrillo Bridge, which carries vehicles over state Route 163, will be closed for retrofitting by Caltrans soon, and parking probably won't be allowed in the plazas during the 2015 park centennial celebrations.
After the ruling, Coons said his group was “extremely gratified” by the judge’s decision.
“Balboa Park is a rare and extraordinary site, filled with history, culture, and beauty. It would have been nothing short of a travesty to lose this treasure to a remodel better suited for an industrial park,” he said in a statement. “This is a victory not only for the people of San Diego who have venerated Balboa Park as the "People's Park" for generations, but also for the millions of visitors who come to San Diego just to see this international gem.”