Conservancy for San Diego’s Iconic Balboa Park Finding Its Role

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Dancestrokes /

October 18, 2012; Source: Voice of San Diego

With San Diego’s iconic Balboa Park approaching its 100-year anniversary in 2015, nonprofit news service Voice of San Diego has been offering an interesting series of articles highlighting some of the challenges that area museums, cultural and conservation organizations, and the San Diego Zoo may face as preparations continue for this anticipated anniversary celebration. In a recent post as part of this series, Voice of San Diego reveals that the Balboa Park Conservancy, an entity that it reports was introduced in 2010 “as a savior group that would match high-level donors with some of Balboa Park’s most long-awaited features,” is still determining how it wants to be affiliated with the city and whether the city’s open meetings requirement would detract from its ability to appeal to major donors.

According to Voice of San Diego, the Conservancy was established in the model of New York City’s Central Park Conservancy, a massive entity that currently raises 85 percent of Central Park’s annual $45.8 million park expense budget and also maintains a partnership with the City of New York, which provides additional support for maintenance and enforcement. By way of introduction, the Balboa Park Conservancy website presents the organization as a “new public benefit, nonprofit entity to assist and partner with the City with governance, fund-raising and management of Balboa Park.” The product of an era of shrinking government funding, the website adds, “As competition increases for limited public financial resources, a look at the past portends that the city will not be able to provide adequate resources necessary to fulfill Balboa Park’s management and operational needs, to address major maintenance, repair and replacement requirements and to implement already approved and future capital improvement projects.”

In an attempt to work around San Diego’s open meetings sticking point, the Balboa Park Conservancy has reportedly added a few city officials to its board as non-voting members, including representatives from the Office of the Mayor and the Parks and Recreation Division. Next, the Conservancy plans to focus on carving out a niche for itself that is separate from other similar entities, such as the nonprofit Friends of Balboa Park, while still addressing ongoing park maintenance fees along with future restoration costs estimated to require more than $200 million. Reflecting on what the precise role of the organization might be, Balboa Park Conservancy board member Phil Rath told Voice of San Diego, “It’s not another fountain…It’s not something you can put a plaque on. It’s stucco facades that we’ve painted a hundred times and the paint’s holding the stucco together.” –Anne Eigeman

  • Kevin Swanson

    Balboa Park Conservancy is a hand picked Board established by Mayor Sanders. As such, there might be a reason why they have not announced any significant fund raising progress in the two years since they have been established.
    The City could reach out to the makers of BioInspired products such as the exterior product manufacturer based on the Lotus Leaf, which is self-cleaning by resisting dirt sticking to it and being cleaned by water. There are other new, sustainable products that manufacturers and other sponsors might be interested in having used as a part of making Balboa Park a Sustainability Showcase.
    Unfortunately there are special interests such as the Plaza de Panama Committee that are influencing the decision making process and making permanent changes to Balboa Park without seeking and accepting full Public input through updating of the Balboa Park Master Plan. That Master Plan, conceived and approved over 20 years ago, is obsolete.
    The FIRST thing on the Conservancy’s list should be paying to have the Master Plan updated through the Public process.

  • Susan J

    This article is interesting but I would appreciate a more comprehensive analysis of the situation. As a nonprofit professional with an interest in parks, green spaces and the environment I believe it is important that these local stories be available as case studies/guidance to help others struggling to maintain facilities in hard times … And those that should be easier.