San Diego City Council approves Plaza de Panama plan - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

San Diego City Council approves Plaza de Panama plan

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SAN DIEGO (CNS) - The San Diego City Council approved the revived $70 million Plaza de Panama plan Monday, which includes $50 million in bonds to pay for the construction of a parking garage, bridge and roadway.

The plan also calls for banning cars in a portion of Balboa Park and a cooperation agreement with a private group that's raising funds for the project.

The vote was 8-1 with Council President Sherri Lightner voting no.

The plan was first approved by the council four years ago. Opponents sued and initially succeeded in getting the project stopped. However, an appellate court ruled in the city's favor in May and Mayor Kevin Faulconer revived the idea about a month later.

"Like never before, the community has gotten behind the new grand vision for the park," Faulconer said in his remarks to the City Council before the vote.

"The project's goal is very simple. Reclaim the heart of the central mesa for pedestrian use and activate the core of the park by creating more opportunities for world class cultural events."

The plan caps the city's contributions at $49 million. The cooperation agreement would authorize the Plaza de Panama Committee -- led by Qualcomm co- founder Irwin Jacobs -- to raise the rest of the funds. The committee would also be responsible for cost overruns.

"The greatest risk to our community, is that we fail to complete the restoration of our civic treasure," Jacobs said in the packed, standing-room- only council chambers. "Working together, we can substantially improve our park and with it, the lives of San Diegans for generations to come."

Jacobs said he wanted to see families enjoying picnics on an expansive green lawn where now there is only a large parking lot.

"We expect such family outings in the new gardens will add greatly to the park experience and to the enjoyment of the adjacent organ pavilion," Jacobs said.

While Balboa Park cultural institutions are solidly behind the plan with 90 supporters signing up to speak in favor of the project, there were 90 opponents who signed up to speak out against it at the Council meeting.

"For the life of us, this is silly. It's a bad project. It should go back to the drawing board," said Bruce Coons, executive director of Save Our Heritage Organization.

"We don't know why anybody is thinking about doing this in this day and age. We ask you to reject this plan and look for something better."

Revenue from a parking garage behind the Spreckels Organ Pavilion would pay back the bond proceeds, according to the city's plans.

"I doubt the parking revenue will be sufficient to cover operation or maintenance of the garage," opponent Judith Swink said, warning that the money to cover costs would eventually come out of the city's "always insufficient" park and recreation department budget.

Councilman Todd Gloria said during the discussion that lasted almost four hours that "there are some that suggest the park should stay exactly the way it is."

"I think one of the beauties of the park is that it's constantly changing and evolving."

Councilman Scott Sherman also expressed his support for the project.

"There's a lot of passion about Balboa Park on both sides of the issue," he said. "I think this is a very good project."

Construction was expected to begin in fall 2017.

In another Balboa Park-related item, the City Council voted 9-0 to approve amendments to planning documents for a project that will add five international cottages that will provide space for nine members of the House of Pacific Relations.

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