Task force urges council to form nonprofit to assist in running Balboa Park



City News Service

A task force formed by Mayor Jerry Sanders called Tuesday on the City Council to establish a nonprofit group to help the city run Balboa Park, an institution members called the “jewel’ of San Diego.

“Everyone recognizes that Balboa Park is the jewel of the city,” Vicki Granowitz, who chairs the task force, told the City Council.

“It is beloved by millions of residents of the region and tourists alike who visit it every year,” she said. “Balboa Park truly is an international known city icon and we want to keep it that way.’’

The 17-member task force — comprised of officials from Balboa Park’s museums, various arts organizations, planning committees and park, community and historic groups — was formed in 2009 to look at the idea of creating a nonprofit group to aid San Diego in operating and raising money for Balboa Park.

In a report to the City Council, the task force presented its recommendations toward that end.

The task force recommended San Diego move to form an independently staffed and governed nonprofit organization to assist in the management of Balboa Park in efforts such as planning and capitol improvement projects. The nonprofit would be charged with fundraising and be overseen by a board of directors.

The park would still remain under the control of the San Diego Park and Recreation Department.

The idea to create a nonprofit group to help oversee the park comes about three years after The Trust for Public Lands found that Balboa Park suffers a nearly $240 million backlog of deferred maintenance.

Councilman Todd Gloria, who represents Balboa Park, said initially he was skeptical about the conservancy model, but changed his mind after learning that is how New York City’s Central Park is run, along with municipal parks around the country in St. Louis, Atlanta, San Francisco and Denver.

“In their cases, as well, the municipal government is not capable of providing the kind of services that people expect and parks deserve,” Gloria said.

Gloria said he hoped to see the nonprofit in place by 2015, when Balboa Park will celebrate its centennial.

Councilman Carl DeMaio said the city should proceed cautiously.

“I think we can do great things for this park,” DeMaio said. “But we need to make sure that as we are going forward that we are very careful with the way it is structured.”

Tuesday’s hearing was informational only, and the City Council did not take any action on the task force’s recommendations.

Balboa Park, which was built in 1915 for the California-Panama Exposition, gets about 10 million visitors a year.