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.

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.