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Mayor announces new plan to remove cars from Balboa Park's central mesa

(This article originally appeared HERE in Voice of San Diego.)

It's only temporary.

The crowd was largely relieved Wednesday night as Mayor Bob Filner shared his non-permanent plan to clear cars from Balboa Park's central mesa.

The mayor wants to strip the signs and parking lines from the Plaza de Panama and return it to pedestrians. That will require relocating handicap parking spots to the lot behind the Alcazar Garden and valet behind The Prado restaurant. Filner also proposes closing the Cabrillo Bridge on weekends and holidays, though he'd allow two-way traffic on weekdays.

The latter has been controversial but Filner at least initially quelled most concerns with an emphasis on its impermanence. He also noted that an already slated construction project that will close the beloved bridge for four months early next year is conveniently timed.

If a certain element doesn't work, the mayor said, the city can try something else.

"We're serious about this but we want your input," he said.

He's likely to get it from nearby residents concerned about increased traffic on Park Boulevard and other streets, as well as those in Bankers Hill who suspect park visitors will crowd their neighborhoods with cars. (We detailed these and other challenges associated with closing the bridge.)

Filner didn't detail specific plans for gathering public feedback but said the City Council will need to weigh in on his proposal.

He's hoping for a quick turnaround.

Filner provided a timeline to Voice of San Diego:

Phase 1: Close Cabrillo Bridge to weekend traffic and add 25 parking spots for disabled park visitors in the lot behind the Spreckels Organ Pavilion by May 31.

Phase 2: Erect barriers — which could be bollards or another temporary blockade — to keep motorists out of the Plaza de Panama and move the valet drop-off area to the parking lot south of Casa de Balboa. Filner hopes this will happen in June.

Phase 3: Add disabled parking spots in the lot behind Alcazar Garden in July, the beginning of the new fiscal year. Presumably, this is when Filner would have access to the $300,000 he included for the temporary traffic plan in his proposed budget. He can use the cash to smooth the sloped parking lot and add signs, planters and café seating to the Plaza de Panama.

Filner's proposal represents a much cheaper approach than philanthropist Irwin Jacobs' blueprint. Jacobs, co-founder of telecommunications giant Qualcomm (and a major supporter of VOSD) offered significant cash for a $45 million plan to build a bypass to keep cars out of the historic archway of the Cabrillo Bridge and a three-story parking garage behind the Organ Pavilion. (Here's what the plan would have looked like.)

A judge effectively nixed that idea in a February ruling that found the city violated its own rules in approving Jacobs' plan. Jacobs told KPBS he was done with the project, though Filner said Wednesday night that he plans to contact the philanthropist to see whether he'd like to assist with his temporary solution.

What do you think of Filner's temporary plan to clear traffic from the Plaza de Panama? Will it work, or could it result in headaches the mayor isn't anticipating?

Lisa Halverstadt is a reporter at Voice of San Diego. Know of something she should check out? You can contact her directly at lisa.halverstadt@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0528.