San Diego Superior Court has ruled in favor of local preservationists who opposed a $45 million plan to renovate the western entrance of Balboa Park, contending the city did not follow necessary procedures in approving the project.

Judge Timothy Taylor backed a request by Save Our Heritage Organisation, or SOHO, for an order calling for the city to rescind permits approved last year for the proposed renovation of Plaza de Panama. In his ruling, Taylor said the city did not establish that current uses of the proposed site are unreasonable before allowing the planned renovation to move forward.

The city attorney’s office has said it will confer with city officials on the next course of action, including a possible appeal of the court ruling. Mayor Bob Filner recently said his office will attempt to bring proponents and opponents together to reach a compromise on improving the traffic situation at Balboa Park, in time for a celebration of the park’s 2015 centennial.

SOHO primarily objects to a proposed bridge that would carry traffic around Plaza de Panama and Plaza de California, toward an underground parking structure proposed for a site behind Spreckels Organ Pavilion. SOHO has said the bridge would be unsightly and threaten the park’s historic status.

City Council last summer approved plans for a project that would transform Plaza de Panama into a pedestrian-friendly plaza, after the Plaza de Panama Committee, chaired by Qualcomm Inc. founder Irwin Jacobs, pledged to raise more than $30 million toward the eventual cost. The remainder was to be funded through revenues generated by the proposed parking garage.

The plan had called for the city to eventually issue $16.5 million in tax-exempt bonds to fund construction of the $14 million garage, with approximately $2 million going toward bond payments during construction.

— SDBJ Staff Report