As a native San Diegan, I've seen this city change and evolve. I grew up in Chula Vista, but have been registered as a City of San Diego voter since college. This is the first time in my voting life that the mayor (Bob Filner), my councilperson (Todd Gloria), and my congressperson (Susan Davis) are all people for whom I voted, not to mention the president (Barack Obama), the governor (Jerry Brown) and the Lieutenant Governor (Gavin Newsom) and a host of other elected offices. Maybe this is the reason I've found more interest in local politics of late. Thankfully, nobody is keeping track of how many hours I watch Cox 21 (CSpan), Cox 23 (California Channel), and Cox 24 (Local Government Access). (Side note: 24 is especially great now because between programming there's now a live seal camera at Children's Pool --though the music is horrifying. Mr Filner, if you'd like to program all local music, I can make that happen to make it a TRULY local access channel)
So the reason for this post is two-fold. First, I wanted to share the link from KPBS about the Plaza de Panama proposal in Balboa Park. A Judge has ruled that the Plaza de Panama project is in violation of the city's municipal code. Hopefully SOHO and Irwin Jacobs can come to a better proposal in mediation and serve the park's parking needs while also maintaining the integrity of the Cabrillo Bridge and the Plaza de Panama. (update: See Full SOHO press release at the end of this post or here)The other reason I'm posting is because Westfield Horton Plaza has changed their parking fees and validation rules. And while it seems to have nothing to do with government, in a way it all ties together. That is going to be quite a rant, however, so I'll post that after the jump.
This morning Darren and I had to run to Golden Hill for an errand, so while we were already in the vicinity, I suggested popping over to Westfield Horton Plaza to grab some Museum Month Passes at Macy's. The passes are free and are valid for up to four people per pass at 50% off at any of the 42 participating museums during the month of February. Not a big deal for Balboa Park, since you can go on Free Tuesdays to enjoy the museums, but great for trips that are a little more pricey, like the Scripps Aquarium.
I've been going to Horton Plaza most of my life. It was shiny and new when I was a kid, so I spent many of my tween/teen weekends skateboarding to the bus, busing to the trolley, and taking the trolley downtown so we could shop at Horton Plaza, Behind The Post Office & Garage Rock on F St., and hit the thrift stores that used to line Fifth Avenue. There was a time when I knew Horton Plaza inside and out.
So I always use the same strategy when getting to Horton Plaza by car...enter on F Street, go up to the Tomato level to park, enter mall, cross the walking bridge up a half level to the entrance of Macy's and validate parking at the Free Validation kiosk in front of the entrance. Today, that kiosk is gone and we were told by an attendant that as of today, February 4th, the parking has changed fees, and for ANY validation, you must make a minimum $10 pre-tax purchase and take your receipt(s) to a ground level kiosk to get validated. Needless to say, the change erupted some fierce hostility inside me, which is why I'm writing now.
Parking wasn't always free at Horton Plaza. There was a time when you had to make a purchase for validation, but that could mean a shopping spree at Banana Republic or a pack of Mentos from Longs Drugstore or a coffee from Starbucks. It was definitely a welcomed change when you could just validate by seeking out the proper automated kiosk in the mall. It is also obvious (after working on 2nd and Broadway for a couple years), that the system was often abused. People working nearby could park and go to work, then just return every few hours to exit and reenter the mall, circumventing explosive parking prices downtown ($160/month average when I worked there about 6 years ago), but it seemed that attendants were sharp enough to identify those patterns and bust the cheaters.
While Westfield could've then just reinstated store by store validation for ANY purchase, now the $10 requirement means no quick in and out trips to the mall (unless you make it in their free window from 4:30-9:30 am). Imagine the validation kiosk with one bitter lady getting yelled at all day about the new stupid rules that she doesn't control during lunchtime when people try to run errands, grab a bite, and get back to their offices in their allotted hour. The new rules pretty much mean I have no reason to go to Horton Plaza, ever.
But then I was thinking about that. Certainly I've done the thing where I park in the mall and exit on 4th to go to Sammy's or American Comedy Club. Westfield has circumvented that problem by changing nighttime fees to $20 flat so that can't happen anymore. But the bigger thing is what is going to happen when the Horton Plaza Park is built? Obviously I use MTS quite often, and Darren and I have had long bike rides from City Heights to Downtown, but realistically the bikes or transit don't work if I need to really SHOP, which if I'm going to a mall in the first place is almost always for some large overpriced gift on an overpriced registry. And what if I don't find what I need? I still have to find something to buy anyway or pay $2 for every 15 minutes I'm there? Most people don't go to a mall for Cinnabon or Hot Dog On A Stick, but if they're shopping, they might stop by to grab a treat. I have a feeling business owners are going to lose significant business with the new rules. The principle of the whole thing that is annoying.
And back to Horton Plaza Park. I don't really understand all of the inner workings, but Westfield basically gave back the former Sam Goody/Robinsons May/Planet Hollywood building to the city which has now been demolished. The city then forfeits their estimated $2 million annual profit-share with the mall. But the public park, set to open in 2014 will then be programmed by Westfield for 25 years. Part of the park agreement that I've heard is 200 days of programming a year, which Mr. Faulconer says will include dances, concerts, movies, farmers markets, etc. The U-T kinda breaks it down here, some funding information is covered by KPBS here, the CCDC overview is here and you can watch the video below. The problem is that while San Diego's downtown has become more desirable as a residential neighborhood, the majority of people going downtown still do not live there. With Westfield's new parking fees, these supposedly FREE events for the citizens of the city are at minimum, $10 events. The way this feels is that Westfield knew this all along. With the recession they lost leasees and revenue, so dumping the empty buildings was no big deal, and they've now jacked the parking so nobody will make the connection in a year from now when everyone is celebrating and festive and rah-rah-rah-ing about a new park. And who knows, maybe Westfield really is awesome, and maybe on those 200 days, parking will be free during event, but I doubt it. It just seems shitty. I hope I'm not the only one who thinks so and there's enough backlash for Westfield to reconsider the new parking validation rules and fee schedule. There has to be a better way.
FULL TEXT OF SOHO PRESS RELEASE:
SOHO Wins! Balboa Park is Saved!
SAN DIEGO, CA - February 4, 2013
After a two-year battle, Save Our Heritage Organisation is ecstatic about its major legal victory made final today when Superior Court Judge Timothy Taylor ruled today that the City Council violated municipal law and used faulty logic last July in approving the Plaza de Panama Committee plan to build a massive bridge and freeway-style road off the iconic Laurel Street/Cabrillo Bridge, modernize acres of parkland, fill canyons, and introduce paid parking into Balboa Park through the building of a new parking structure against the backdrop of the majestic Spreckels Organ Pavilion.
Judge Taylor, in a detailed ruling, held that the City "abused its discretion" in approving the project in violation of its Municipal Code and that "SOHO is entitled to a writ of mandamus directing the city" to set aside the project's required Site Development Permit. In order to approve the permit under the Municipal Code, the City was required to find that the project site would otherwise have "no reasonable beneficial use." The judge held that "the critical finding by the City Council is so lacking in evidentiary support as to render it unreasonable; it must therefore be set aside."
Bruce Coons, SOHO's executive director, issued the following statement:
SOHO is extremely gratified by the court's ruling. Balboa Park is a rare and extraordinary site, filled with history, culture, and beauty. It would have been nothing short of a travesty to lose this treasure to a remodel better suited for an industrial park. This is a victory not only for the people of San Diego who have venerated Balboa Park as the "People's Park" for generations, but also for the millions of visitors who come to San Diego just to see this international gem.
This project embodied broader and darker implications for Balboa Park's future. The plan would have caused significant, irreparable and irreversible harm to Balboa Park's historic structures, its environment, its canyons and roadways. It would have paved the way for what many San Diegans believe would have led to commercialization, privatization, and new construction throughout the park, severely curtailing public access and destroying forever the experience of this singular place.
We would like to take this moment to disavow the public of misleading claims made by our opponents during this two-year conflict. The Plaza de Panama project in no way reclaimed the park from cars. While one small area was to be freed up, the rest of the park was, in fact, designed to be dominated by vehicles in a sea of traffic, new buildings and acres of concrete. It would have turned once tranquil park areas, such as the Alcazar Gardens, into an automobile, bus, and semi-truck delivery zone. Despite dozens of public and several private meetings, there was never any genuine opportunity to find an agreeable compromise. Beyond all reason, the "My Way or the Highway" attitude that prevailed with this project trounced common sense, respect for the public's wishes, and responsible stewardship of our national landmark.
Significantly, the judge's decision marks the City Council's second illegal move to advance the proposed Plaza de Panama project. Last year SOHO sued the city in Superior Court over the prematurely approved Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the city and the project's proponent, who dictated what the project should entail despite widespread opposition from citizens and design, planning, and conservation professionals alike. SOHO challenged the MOU and Judge Judith Hayes agreed and ruled in SOHO's favor.
Today's victory should be seen as a lesson to never allow plutocratic interests to override the wishes of the public. The hard work of the greater San Diego community, which included over 30 organizations, planning groups, neighborhood, environmental and civic groups and multiple historic organizations to fight this project and to protect the park's over 100-year history, has been remarkable, These people, along with the many donors whose contributions helped to fund SOHO's litigation, can all be tremendously proud today. Balboa Park, the People's Park, will now be preserved, making this a monumental victory for the citizens of San Diego and the National Historic Landmark District as a whole.
The spirit of innovation, economic development and entrepreneurism that drove the original 1915 Panama-California Exposition will now have a clear path to move ahead with planning for and celebration of its centennial and the future beyond 2015, while preserving the integrity of this national treasure.
View Judge Taylor's ruling HERE.