Private Donations And Public Interest In Balboa Park

Bradley J. Fikes Bradley J. Fikes 6 Comments


Lucas O’Connor over at Two Cathedrals has raised some interesting questions about the implications of private donors exerting influence over public space and services.

His post begins:

A new front opened last night in the saga of Balboa Park, with the Old Globe’s Executive Producer emailing the theater’s email list with a pitch for the Plaza de Panama Committee’s recommendations for park redesign and lobbying for theater patrons to contact their city councilmember. It reignites debate over Balboa Park’s future and sparks new ethical and pragmatic questions about the relationship between money and political lobbying efforts.

For starters, let’s be clear about what the Plaza de Panama Committee is. It’s chaired by Irwin Jacobs, a major Old Globe backer who pulled back his $33 million proposal to privately redesign the park after a city council vote rebuked the plan. The PdP Committee Board of Directors also includes Donald Cohn, the chairman of the board at The Old Globe and a major financial backer who spearheaded the Old Globe’s new Karen and Donald Cohn Education Center. In other words, the Executive Producer of the Old Globe is pitching for a plan put forth by some of his most vital financial backers, including the Chairman of the Old Globe Board of Directors  . . .

Is The Old Globe wrong for weighing in on this? Not necessarily. Whether it steps over the ethical line is a judgment call, and receiving tax dollars isn’t an automatic disqualifier from political participation. But this does highlight the fundamental conflict in relying on private philanthropy to keep the city running. Without an effective, independent government to mediate on these issues, public/private funding models for basic civic goods are doomed from the start. Where does it end?

What do Rostrafarians think about this issue? Is philanthropy to government vulnerable to being abused to exert undue control over public property? And if so, how can this be handled?

Readers, I ask you to go over to Two Cathedrals and read Lucas’ entire article and share your perspectives.


(DISCLAIMER: This is my opinion, and not necessarily that of my employer, the North County Times).


Comments 6

  1. Where is the ominous “sting” music as Mr. Irwin Jacobs
    tries to preserve and improve the civic Treasure that is
    Balboa Park ! ? 😉

    Ditto for alerting SD voters that a key issue is coming to
    the San Diego city council for a decision.

    Firebrands of this type apparently take seriously that Bill
    of Rights stuff about “petitioning the Government for a
    Redress of Grievances”.

    King George III did not like THAT kind of talk in 1776,
    and apparently some modern-day Tories don’t either.

    And here’s the funny thing: public records show Mr.
    Jacobs has been a generous campaign donor to
    Democratic candidates, from the White House to
    the Democratic National Committee, and to Rep.
    Susan Davis, among many others.

    And THIS is the thanks he gets!

    Let’s hope Mr. Jacobs will take a 2nd look at the Republican Party. We don’t consider achievers and philanthropists like him to be sinister.

  2. How much money does the City of San Diego currently make from the $10 Valet parking for the primary benefit of the Balboa Park museums, dinner at the fabulous Prado Restaurant, a play at the internationally-acclaimed, Tony® Award-winning Old Globe Theatre, and Valet parking for the rich? Zero. The City allows a part-time Valet service for the Prado that only pays for itself on certain nights and weekends. There is no market for Paid Parking at Balboa Park.

    What is the projected demand for future paid parking at Balboa Park? The Memorandum of Understanding requires a $15 million public bond for construction of a new paid parking structure, roof top park, and expanded exclusive Valet parking stalls.

    The potential $30 million gift would pay for the new Bypass Bridge and the new Grade Separation Throughway that will increase the amount of cars using Balboa Park as a short cut.

    SOHO instead is advocating for the existing Precise Plan for Circulation that keeps the $15 million parking structure and roof top park already approved in the Master and Precise Plans. But gets rid of the new Bypass Bridge and Grade Separation Throughway. This saves the philanthropic community $30 million dollars that can be used were needed.

    Paid parking may not be allowed in Balboa Park without the vote of citizens to form a new parking district. However a free parking structure would be allowed. If the public pays for a new parking structure in Balboa Park adjacent downtown, the new public building could be financed using CCDC Redevelopment Tax Increment funding.

  3. Also, Cohn owns the Prado restaurant. Not exactly like he’s got no skin in the game.

  4. This is happening in Detroit on a much larger scale. This is the normal give and take of public/private ventures. Having said that, it just argues for limiting such ventures to non-essential functions. in Detroit, counting on foundation money to help revitalize the city has led to political discomfort because the charity providing much of the initial capital wants to influence the zoning process. The citizenry is of course upset, and each neighborhood wants their say. But they risk losing the funding necessary. Tough choice brought on by decades of leftism and a declining private business base.

  5. Katherine,

    On this one we are going to disagree. A quick glance at the SOHO plan (and, fair disclosure, after one look at page 2 I stopped) indicates it is either fatally flawed or cynically presented.

    1) You CAN NOT have that amount of vehicle traffic on a decorative plaza. Tiles will break, oil will leak, tires will leave marks. The REASON the current plaza is asphalt is to deal with this situation.

    2) Ditto the liability concerns. The first time a car fails to turn properly or a kid darts in front of a car and the city gets hit by a lawsuit because of the lack of physical seperation between the cars and the pedestrians my guess is that SOHO isn’t going to be indemnifying the city.

    3) So you have a choice. You can either CLOSE the bridge to traffic – thus requiring some serious payouts to leaseholders who were promised certain access or you can have a bypass.

  6. Don’t know, but think the City gives away leases in Balboa Park to non profits for $1, plus subsidizes operations of museums with TOT.

    Mayor Sanders plan will increase cross town traffic through Balboa Park. Read pages 7 to 9 for the outstanding cycle issues including evidence that the Grade Separation Thoroughfare will move Vehicle Pedestrian Conflicts from the Plaza de Panama to the east end of the Cabrillo Bridge. Why should taxpayers build Balboa Park Museums their own private parking stalls? It would be cheaper to give executive parking spots to Museum patrons at Alcazar Gardens. There are many other better solutions than spending $15 million on a boondoggle paid parking structure that could not pay for itself.

    All new pavement designs for the Plaza de Panama have to be rated for Emergency Fire Lanes. SOHO’s alternative design would use the same type of decomposed granitics as in 1915.

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