SOHO is requesting that the Court order the City to set aside its "Memorandum of Understanding" contract with the Plaza de Panama Committee while the state-mandated environmental review process is pending. The MOU is not needed prior to conducting environmental review. It is a detailed agreement delineating terms for funding and constructing the $40 million Balboa Park Circulation and Parking Project. Scores of San Diego residents and organizations contend that the project would have devastating impacts on the iconic architecture and cultural landscapes of Balboa Park, a national historic landmark.
Although the MOU recites the City's obligation to conduct full environmental review and consideration of alternatives, the inescapable point of the contract was explained by Plaza de Panama Committee Chair Irwin Jacobs, who requested that the Council "agree" with his project's "vision and goals" just as expressed in the MOU. Otherwise, it was made clear, the Committee would walk away from the project as it did in June when the Rules Committee declined to endorse the MOU.
The lawsuit notes that against the vociferous objections of SOHO and many concerned citizens who support the study of environmentally-superior alternatives that would meet Park goals while protecting the historic integrity of the world-famous landmark, before considering the MOU, the City Council capitulated and adopted the MOU without first complying with the mandates of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
It is simply too early to commit to the "vision" of the Plaza de Panama project as now proposed. The California Supreme Court recently reiterated that actions short of a formal, binding approval are illegally premature if they move a project's momentum significantly forward before environmental review is complete, even if contingent on eventual CEQA compliance. SOHO contends that as a practical matter the MOU will have environmental consequences by influencing the shape of future development in Balboa Park.
Actions speak louder than words. SOHO's suit contends that the totality of the City's actions render the MOU an unlawful pre-commitment to the Plaza de Panama project as currently conceived. The MOU should be set aside pending the City's certification of an adequate environmental impact report that fairly considers project alternatives and mitigations out of the shadow of the MOU.
"Setting aside this MOU is the only way to ensure that the City will take a fair and open look at the alternative solutions to parking and traffic issues, impacts to the historic and cultural needs and the restoration of Balboa Park favored by San Diego citizens and Balboa Park supporters statewide," said SOHO Executive Director Bruce Coons.