The Alcazar Garden and the California Tower in Balboa Park. Photo by Richard Benton
The Alcazar Garden and the California Tower in Balboa Park. Photo by Richard Benton

By Colleen O’Connor

Want to know why voters are so angry?

Simple: Because no one listens. And they are constantly lied to by their “representatives” who don’t represent them. Trust is gone.

Several cases in point:

  • La Jolla Children’s Pool — already covered in “Another Trust Violated.”
  • Chargers’ Stadium controversy: Promise of “no public funds” about to be tested with language that allows funds to go to City’s general fund—available for whatever Council wants—including stadium subsidies!
  • Development of former Navy buildings along Harbor Drive: A wall of high rises begins contrary to Coastal Commission expectations.
  • Liberty Station: Promises of more green and open spaces—as well as retention of old Navy Swimming pool—reduced and eliminated.

Other examples of volatile public pushback vs. promises from their representatives: One Paseo, Lilac Hills, Mission Beach luxury condos, Clairemont and Bay Park opposition to planned transit corridor and height limit changes, and the Hillcrest planning committee’s anger over proposed high-rise, high-density buildings.

Common complaint: No one listens. Stop the developments. Save the character of our neighborhood. Save our history. “Leave us in peace.”

And now, the Jacobs’ Balboa Park Plan—soon to be the subject of a massive loophole (as eloquently put by Councilwoman Sherri Lightner)—for a multi-story, paid/valet parking lot and mega-construction projects inside the once iconic “people’s park.”

The Balboa Park Plan, once rejected and now resurrected by Mayor Kevin Faulconer, currently has no money (think property tax increases) and no support from environmental and historical organizations or relevant planning groups.

According to Bruce Coons, executive director of the Save Our Heritage Organization, some “thirty…environmental community groups and organizations, including six neighborhood planning groups…have opposed this boondoggle.”

“So, [he] asks, ‘Who makes the decisions for and about the park, the citizens or a clutch of self-interested parties? Is Balboa Park the People’s Park, or isn’t it’?”

He continues, “The skillfully crafted propaganda does not match reality or even the [proponents’] own drawings. The sponsors are guilty of one of the most egregious examples of developer deceit I’ve ever encountered.”

The deceit? Marketing the paid parking and radical deconstruction of Balboa Park as a way to “save” San Diego High School—which sits on “park land” with a 50-year lease expiring. During which time, the school district did nothing to address the issue.

Thus, the sleight of hand.

Who would vote for a proposal to remove Balboa Park from charter protection? Almost no one.

Thus, the vote will be packaged as a “Save San Diego High School” initiative on the ballot.

However, the fine print guarantees a back door for developers and a front door for political donations.

Or as the Councilwoman Sherri Lightner, forcefully stated in her opposing vote, to amend the City Charter would “create a loophole that would jeopardize the protection of parkland from development.”

Instead, she suggested a temporary extension of the high school’s lease while also protecting the park.

She was outvoted 7-1.

An incremental approach to fixing the deferred maintenance that ails the park would be both fiscally prudent and politically wise. Start with the Botanical Gardens exterior. Move on to the next repair when the money is available. Not a grand, unnecessary scheme to advance political careers and coffers.

Grand plans are extravagant wastes of taxpayer’s money. Look at the millions lost in just planning for the Park’s 100th anniversary! All thrown at consultants and nonsense….and no real celebration!

See why the voters are so angry? The trust is gone. And seemingly no one “represents” them.

The charter does not need changing to save San Diego High, or to protect Balboa Park. The City Council does.


Colleen O’Connor is a retired college history professor and native San Diegan. 

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