SAN DIEGO - A San Diego Superior Court judge's tentative ruling to reverse the City Council's approval of a plan to spruce up Balboa Park in time for the area's centennial celebration in 2015 is a blow to San Diego, council President Todd Gloria said Monday.
Bruce Coons, head of the preservationist group Save Our Heritage Organisation, which sued to stop the Plaza de Panama Project, had the opposite view. He said he was "thrilled" with the "strong" ruling released Friday by Judge Timothy Taylor.
SOHO opposes a park that would be built as part of the project to reroute traffic away from the center of Balboa Park.
The judge sided with the city on two of three issues, but determined that the City Council violated the municipal code when it found -- without supporting evidence -- that there would be no reasonable beneficial use for the park area if the project failed to go forward. He scheduled oral arguments and a final decision for Friday.
City and tourism officials are hoping to use the 100th birthday of Balboa Park to attract more visitors than usual to San Diego, and an organization has been formed to create a full year's worth of programming.
"This is a sad day for those of us who understand the need to reclaim precious parkland from cars and give it back to the people for their enjoyment," Gloria said. "While this is no doubt a setback, I am confident dedicated San Diegans will continue to selflessly champion needed improvements in Balboa Park just as they have for nearly 100 years."
Eve Godfrey, who lives near the park, told 10News, "There are people roaming around all the time trying to find parking, pedestrians are walking and cars are coming through. It looks like there could easily be accidents."
Godfrey likes the plan that Qualcomm co-founder Irwin Jacobs proposed and wanted to pay for. However, SOHO has long opposed the plan to construct the bridge on the west side of the park to carry traffic around the Plaza de Panama and Plaza de California. The bridge would be unsightly, send vehicles into currently quiet areas of the park and jeopardize the area's historical status, according to SOHO.
Coons contends the city abused its discretion on the matter.
"This ruling will allow SOHO and other stakeholders to achieve the long held goal of eliminating parking in Balboa Park's Plaza de Panama in a non-destructive and unintrusive way, while protecting the Balboa Park National Historic Landmark District that we all cherish," Coons said.
In his ruling, Taylor wrote that he was "reluctant" to find against the city because he was aware that it might cost project supporters generous private donations. The "positives from the project seem to far outweigh the negatives," the judge said.
The judge also conceded that the final decision on the issue would be made at the appellate level.