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.