Opponents of a $70 million plan to remove traffic from the center of Balboa Park have filed a lawsuit in San Diego Superior Court to stop the project.

The San Diego Museum of Art faces Plaza de Panama in Balboa Park. Photo via BalboaPark.org

The preservationist group Save Our Heritage Organisation, which temporarily blocked the project a few years ago, contends in its latest court action that a more substantial environmental study is needed for the work to go forward instead of an addendum the city is relying on.

Gerry Braun, a spokesman for City Attorney Mara Elliott, said SOHO’s “latest lawsuit on the same project is nothing more than an unjustified attempt at delay.”

“We look forward to the court swiftly rejecting SOHO’s claims once again and the construction of new parkland, pedestrian spaces and access for disabled visitors in the heart of Balboa Park,” Braun said.

The original plan — backed by Qualcomm co-founder Irwin Jacobs and approved by the City Council four years ago — was to route vehicles coming off the Cabrillo Bridge onto a roadway behind the Alcazar Garden, keeping traffic away from the Plaza de Panama and other central areas of the park.

The plan also envisioned construction of a paid parking garage behind the Spreckels Organ Pavilion, the proceeds from which would pay back construction bonds.

SOHO, which objected to construction of a bypass bridge for the new roadway, successfully sued to stop the project. The city, however, got the lower court ruling overturned on appeal, and Mayor Kevin Faulconer and the City Council revived the plan this year.

In the intervening years, the city removed parking from the plaza, replacing the spaces with chairs, tables and umbrellas — though a well-traveled roadway still winds through the area. SOHO’s complaint contends that removing parking took away “the impetus” for the project.

The complaint alleges that city officials pushed through this year “a modified project despite new information and substantially changed circumstances that affect significant environmental impacts.”

In addition to the removal of parking, the complaint cites changes to the support structure of the bypass bridge, redesigned storm water basins, new information on traffic patterns during the temporary closure two years ago of the Cabrillo Bridge for renovations, and substantially higher construction costs that would affect the project’s public benefit.

The plaintiff wants a judge to order the city to rescind its project approvals and prohibit any action to start construction.

Under the plan, city costs are capped at $49 million, while a community group led by Jacobs would be responsible for raising the rest of the funding. The Plaza de Panama Committee would also be liable for cost overruns.

Depending on the outcome of the SOHO lawsuit, construction is expected to begin in the fall.

The Balboa Park Alliance supports the plan, calling it “a visionary and transformational return of Balboa Park to its natural beauty, reestablishing pedestrian-friendly parklands and improving public access for all.”

— City News Service

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