Qualcomm co-founder Irwin Jacobs says Plaza de Panama project for Balboa Park 'over'

Judge ruled against Plaza de Panama plan

SAN DIEGO - The next chapter in the life of a stalled plan to remove cars from the center of Balboa Park could be mediation between its proponents and detractors, but the project's chief financial backer said Tuesday he is now on the sideline.

In an interview on KPBS radio, Qualcomm co-founder Irwin Jacobs said he has told members of the Plaza de Panama Committee that the project is over.

"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."

On Monday, a San Diego Superior Court judge tossed out the 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 a proposed bridge that will carry traffic around the Plaza de Panama and Plaza de California. The bridge would be unsightly and jeopardize the park's historic status, according to SOHO.

"At this point I'm just a bystander," Jacobs said.

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.

Jacobs released the following statement:

"I am saddened at the court’s decision that has effectively ended the Plaza de Panama Project. It is a shame that this action could prevent us from having the pleasure of watching children happily playing in a car-free Plaza de Panama, or enjoying a quiet cup of coffee in the Plaza de California. In the future, when it becomes obvious to all that the use of the Plaza de Panama and the Plaza de California for traffic thoroughfares and parking is not a reasonable beneficial use, the city will have available for reference detailed plans and a comprehensive EIR which has withstood the assault of one CEQA law suit.

I would like to thank all of the members of the Plaza de Panama Committee, consultants, leaders of the Park institutions, project supporters, and the many city workers who provided expertise to ensure the plans not only were in conformance with city rules but also would provide a great improvement to the core of the park."

City Council President Todd Gloria said Jacobs deserved the thanks of San Diegans for his vision and dedication to improving Balboa Park.

"I am grateful for his committee's valiant efforts and was pleased to have tried to make the vision of reclaiming the park's central core for people instead of cars a reality," Gloria said. "Balboa Park will always be San Diego's crown jewel, but it will be missing a gem for now."

Balboa Park is within Gloria's district.

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