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Gloria would like to pursue Plaza de Panama project

San Diego City Council President Todd Gloria isn't ready to give up on plans to renovate Balboa Park's Plaza de Panama just yet.

In a memo Friday to San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith, Gloria inquired about the council's legal and legislative options following a court's determination that the approval of the project violated the city's municipal code and must be set aside.

"I continue to support the Plaza de Panama Project as approved by the City Council, and am firmly convinced, as Judge (Timothy) Taylor was, that its benefits far outweigh its impacts, even with regard to protecting the park's historical resources," Gloria wrote. "I am also firmly convinced that the city needs to fix the problem with its Municipal Code, as identified by Judge Taylor, or it may never be able to remove parking and traffic from the Plaza."

The $45.3 million project, the brainchild of Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM) co-founder Irwin Jacobs, included a paid parking garage and a bypass bridge as a way to remove vehicle traffic from the center of Balboa Park.

Jacobs and other supporters had been hoping the renovation would be completed in time for the centennial celebration of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition.

The historic preservation group Save Our Heritage Organisation (SOHO), however, filed a lawsuit, accusing the city of filing an improper environmental impact report (EIR) and violating municipal code regarding the alteration of historic facilities.

While Judge Taylor upheld the EIR, he said the council failed to provide evidence that the property would have no reasonable beneficial use if the project wasn't approved as required by municipal code.

"The final ruling by Judge Taylor set aside only the site development permit for the Plaza de Panama Project pending the city's correction of its error on that single finding," Gloria wrote in his memo. "His ruling seemingly does not affect the project in any other way. It did not disturb the Balboa Park Master Plan and Precise Plan amendments that the City Council adopted last year, as well as the project EIR, which the judge reviewed in great detail and with which he found no fault."

The City Attorney's Office has scheduled a closed session of City Council on Feb. 26 to discuss the litigation.

In a statement to the press last week, Jacobs indicated he no longer would be pursuing his plans to renovate Plaza de Panama.

“I am saddened at the court’s decision that has effectively ended the Plaza de Panama Project," he said. "It is a shame that this action could prevent us from having the pleasure of watching children happily playing in a car-free Plaza de Panama, or enjoying a quiet cup of coffee in the Plaza de California.

"In the future, when it becomes obvious to all that the use of the Plaza de Panama and the Plaza de California for traffic thoroughfares and parking is not a reasonable beneficial use, the city will have available for reference detailed plans and a comprehensive EIR which has withstood the assault of one CEQA lawsuit."

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