Free parking is a great equalizer, paying for spots in Balboa Park is not

Editor’s note: The San Diego City Council voted to 6-1 on July 9 to support a $45.3 million construction project that will remove vehicles from the center of Balboa Park, returning its Plaza de Panama to pedestrians. The plan includes construction of a 405-foot bypass bridge to carry traffic around the center of the park, and building a 797-space underground parking garage where motorists would pay $5 to park for five hours. La Jolla’s city council representative Sherry Lightner cast the lone dissenting vote. The Light asked her to write a column explaining her views on the project. We thank her for filing this report.

Balboa Park is one of this region’s true treasures. So it’s no wonder that it stirs strong emotions in San Diegans. Those emotions were in clear evidence when the San Diego City Council recently voted on the Plaza de Panama project. As I said in my remarks at City Council, we are united by a common goal: transforming the heart of Balboa Park into a pedestrian-friendly plaza.
It’s the how that has divided us.

San Diego City Councilwoman Sherri Lightner

Leading up to the hearing, I closely studied the environmental document and every scrap of background material as well as met with any and all parties on the issue. Ultimately, I could not support the project for several reasons including the following:

• As a long-time member of the La Jolla Historical Society and a passionate supporter of historic preservation, I also believe there are simpler, less costly solutions to remove cars from the Plaza de Panama – ones that will have less impact on Balboa Park’s historic nature.

• I am fundamentally opposed to putting paid parking in the middle of the People’s Park. Free parking is a great equalizer. It means that any San Diego family – regardless of income or background – has the same opportunity to come and enjoy the park free of charge. While it may be easy to dismiss a $5 charge, I assure that $5 is no small amount to many of San Diego’s working families.

• Also, as the people of La Jolla know all too well, paid public parking has a slew of unintended consequences. When you have paid parking next to free parking, people circulate looking for the closest free parking. That not only increases traffic congestion in the area but also the surrounding neighborhoods. It’s why as a community volunteer, I worked so hard with my neighbors to stop paid on-street parking at our local beaches.

• In addition, I am extremely concerned that the proposed paid parking garage in Balboa Park might not generate the revenue needed to pay off the $16.5 million bond. The result: Taxpayers will be asked to foot the bill and it would further strain our already tight city budget.

While I might not agree with the particulars of the project, I do know we all come to this discussion with one thing in common: an appreciation of Balboa Park and a desire to make a marvelous institution even better. Going forward I hope we can focus on our common goals – not just what divides up – as we prepare for the 2015 Centennial. It will be the celebration of a lifetime.

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Posted by Staff on Jul 25, 2012. Filed under News, Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

5 Comments for “Free parking is a great equalizer, paying for spots in Balboa Park is not”

  1. The City's non-profit for the Centennial will remove 3 Free Parking areas: Lower Inspiration Point, President's Way/Park Blvd., and the Palisades. All venues underneath Lindbergh Field's flight path. The projected attendance to Balboa Park will increase from 10 million/year (60% Zoo) to 20 million. Who will benefit? Tourism, hotels, Park institutions/leaseholders, the non-profit. Permanent changes as a result? None.

  2. Derek

    The only reason people circulate looking for free parking is because there's no middle tier between $5 parking and free parking. At the right time and place, people will pay 25 cents an hour for parking, even if free parking exists but is a farther walk away.

  3. Dan Soderberg

    People will NOT pay to park when free parking is available. You need to look no further than Balboa Park's neighbor North Park and their parking building. It is not paying for itself. In San Francisco Golden Gate Park has a parking building not paying for itself. The proposed Organ Pavilion paid parking building will be a taxpayer liability, and the Independent Budget Analyst concurs.

    Sherri Lightner is the only Councilmember who looked at the facts of this proposal without being dazzled by the public relations hype and power politics behind it.

    She also understands her sworn obligation to uphold the law. When the Jacobs proposal is struck down in Court for the many laws it violates, Councilmember Lightner's wisdom will stand in sharp contrast with those who put San Diego taxpayers at risk by voting for the plan.

    • Derek

      If a parking garage is mostly full at all times (never completely full and never less than half empty) and still doesn't pay for itself, that's pretty definitive proof that the market is flooded with excess parking.

      The proposed parking garage isn't needed. After removing parking from the Plaza de Panama, all that's needed to prevent a parking shortage is to price the remaining parking spaces in Balboa Park just high enough that they stay mostly full at all times. Some parking areas never get close to full and therefore can remain free.

    • James

      You're right they should make the new structure free to park.

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