SAN DIEGO - Members of the City Council on Monday voiced concerns about Mayor Bob Filner's plan to shut off traffic in the center of Balboa Park on weekends and holidays, but there was no outright opposition.
10News Poll: City residents on Filner's Balboa Park plan
The proposal was taken up as council members examined an $89.2 million budget request for the Parks and Recreation Department for the upcoming fiscal year. A $300,000 line item to pay for the plan might be the panel's only opportunity to weigh-in on the idea, council President Todd Gloria said.
Besides the traffic closure, Filner's plans call for removing all parking in the Plaza de Panama. Parks and Recreation Department Director Stacey LoMedico said handicapped parking would be moved to the Alcazar Garden area, which would have to be repaved first. That's where most of the $300,000 would be spent, she said.
There is the fear that traffic and parking around Balboa Park will get worse.
"We already have a hard enough time parking as it is because we don't have underground parking or anything here," said nearby resident Justin Vaira.
Gloria said city staff needed to be prepared with metrics for judging the impact of the closure on park attendance, patronage at museums and traffic levels in nearby neighborhoods like Bankers Hill and Park West.
He said he would like the mayor's office to commit to reversing the plan if detrimental impacts are deemed to be too great.
Alan Jones of the mayor's office said the plan's effects will be evaluated next year, following a Caltrans seismic retrofit of the Cabrillo Bridge that would shut off traffic into the park.
Filner has said the plan is temporary and he's willing to take suggestions.
"There's an openness and a willingness that frankly a few months ago I wouldn't have thought would have been there when you see the cultural institutions, the neighbors, this council all reaching out and saying, 'We're open, we're willing to work with you, and we're willing to work with you,"' Gloria said. "It's a trust but verify situation."
The mayor is calling it an opportunity.
"Now, we have a chance to make it incredibly attractive to the pedestrian experience," said Filner.
However, some like it the way it is.
"It's a bad thing to do… to just go in there and interrupt the natural status of this park," said Reginaldo Limon, who lives near Balboa Park.
Earlier, a much larger plan favored by ex-Mayor Jerry Sanders and Qualcomm co-founder Irwin Jacobs was shot down in court. Bruce Coons, the head of a preservationist group that sued to stop it, said he supports Filner's idea.
The parks and recreation center budget proposal also calls for $25,000 for staff to finish getting the permits they need to close off public access to the Children's Pool in La Jolla from mid-December to mid-May, when seals are giving birth and weaning their young.
Currently, a rope barrier is in place to discourage humans from going onto the beach and disturbing the marine mammals, but it doesn't completely keep them out.
The fate of the seals has been the source of a long-running dispute between animal rights groups and beach access advocates. Council members did not comment on the funding request.
The City Council waded through the police, fire and library budgets earlier.
Funding for the SDPD would increase by $4.6 million over this year to $411.2 million to restore the neighborhood policing program, add four candidates to police academies and improve equipment for officers, like gas masks, hand-held radios, firearms and riot gear.
Administration would be cut by $4 million.
An extra $18.6 million would go to the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department over the current year, bringing total spending for the agency to $220.2 million.
All but $2 million of the increase will go into a category called emergency operations. The mayor has also proposed spending an extra $451,000 to add hourly seasonal lifeguards.
The library budget would jump $4.3 million to $43.6 million, mostly to cover expenses of the new Central Library.
Actual votes on the budget will take place in June. The next fiscal year begins July 1.