The Cabrillo Bridge at Balboa Park. Image from Wikimedia Commons.
The Cabrillo Bridge at Balboa Park. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

The California Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal of a lower court’s decision supporting San Diego’s privately-funded renovation of the Plaza de Panama in Balboa Park.

“It is gratifying to know that the Court of Appeal and now the Supreme Court agree that we were right all along on the law,” City Attorney Jan Goldsmith said after the ruling last week.

Some $45 million in park improvements would have been completed this year, in time for the park’s centennial celebration, if not for the court battle.

The Save Our Heritage Organization had sued the city over a number of issues, arguing there was no justification for the project. Executive Director Bruce Coons criticized the project in an interview with NBC7, citing its potential to cause irreparable damage to Balboa Park’s historic structures and its environment.

SOHO petitioned for a reconsideration of an appellate court’s ruling that upheld the project’s legality. The high court answered this request with: “Petition for review denied.”

The ruling supports the city’s ability to fund projects for the public through private donations.

The Plaza de Panama project would add an underground parking structure with nearly 800 paid parking spaces, charging $5 per visit. The project was approved by the city Planning Commission and later by the City Council in 2012 with a 7-1 vote.

Without SOHO’s efforts to combat the project with alternative plans, the work would have already been completed this year.

According to the San Diego Free Press, among the concerns with the Plaza de Panama project is the historical damage caused by appending a new bridge to the Cabrillo bridge (built in 1915) and the beginning of paid parking which had previously been prohibited in the founding agreements of Balboa Park.

SOHO originally sued on several issues, including a claim that the project failed to comply with a city historic resources ordinance. This claim was based on the city lacking justification for replacing a historic parking lot with a pedestrian-oriented plaza.

The City Attorney’s office argued that there was a proper justification for the project, because without the new parking structure, traffic engineering reports predict that Balboa Park will reach Level of Service “F” traffic conditions. This means that without the Plaza de Panama project, traffic around the park is expected to be frequently congested and overcrowded.

The trial court judge, Timothy Taylor, ruled against the project, but the decision was appealed. In May, the Fourth Appellate District Court of Appeal overturned the trial judge’s decision and ruled in favor of the project’s continuation by concluding that the city had complied with its historic resources ordinance.

As a final measure to combat the project, SOHO turned to the Supreme Court. Since the high court denied SOHO’s petition, the final word on the project belonged to the appellate court. This means that the city may go forward with the Plaza de Panama project.

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