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Status Update: 2/5/13


On the heals of the city's legal loss over the Plaza de Panama Project, San Diego Mayor Bob Filner announced that the Earth Day Fair in 2013 will be held in the heart of Balboa Park, as it has for the past 23 years. We sincerely thank Mayor Filner for honoring his promise to see that EarthFair will go forward. We have initiated the process of requesting a permit, and will open EarthFair registration as soon as we have an affirmative response from the Balboa Park administration.

While the course now seems clear for 2013, there is the open question of EarthFair 2014 - and for the park anniversary year of 2015. We know that those who wants EarthFair out of the heart of the park have not been vanquished. We will preserve the chronology of this past 6 months, below, as a marker for what can happen, and what must be achieved to ensure, not just that EarthFair has a home in Balboa Park, but that it remains the people's park: available for the free use of the citizens of San Diego.

Click here to see Mayor Filner's actual news release. We request that EarthFair supporters show their appreciation by sending a note of thanks to the mayor; you can send email to bobfilner@sandiego.gov.

Here is the announcement from the San Diego Union Tribune:

San Diego's Earth Day won't be canceled
By Matthew T. Hall

San Diego's Earth Day celebration, whose days seemed numbered after decades, is back on, and back where it belongs, in the heart of Balboa Park.

San Diego Mayor Bob Filner made the announcement Tuesday afternoon after Qualcomm co-founder Irwin Jacobs decided to walk away from plans to reroute vehicle traffic through the park in light of a judge's Monday ruling that the City Council approved the plan in violation of city law.

A news release from Filner's office said he "is pleased to announce that EarthFair 2013 will now be held at its original, historic location."

The statement went on: "Initially, the City offered a permit for a different location at Balboa Park for EarthFair 2013 because of safety concerns of the planned construction project. But in light of the ruling on Plaza de Panama, that is no longer a concern and I am happy to announce EarthFair 2013 will occur in the heart of the park, once their permit is complete. I love the EarthFair! I am looking forward to celebrating with all San Diegans."

The decision will surely delight EarthFair founder Carolyn Chase, whose quip to me last month that we needed to "Free Earth Day" launched a social media campaign.

"It’s a campaign as worthy as preserving the planet," I wrote in my Jan. 6 column.

As I joked on Twitter Tuesday: "Earth Day, freed! Column victories all over the place. ;)"

Seriously, I’m glad Earth Day will be held in the heart of the park.

Enjoy it, everyone. You never know if we’ll have to #FreeEarthDay next year, too.

Dear Friend of Earth Day:

On Friday, Jan 4, 2013, San Diego EarthWorks was notified by an official in office of Mayor Bob Filner that the City of San Diego will not issue a park use permit for EarthFair in the Balboa Park Central Mesa - the heart of the Park where the event has been held for 23 years.

Quick Links
What you can do to help
Status Update 2/4/13
Court finds against city - in our favor - EarthFair 2013 SHOULD be on!
Status Update 1/28/13
Meeting with City Staff over Moving to the West Side
Status Update 1/16/13
Letter of the Day: Teach Your Children Well
Status Update 1/15/13
Letter of the Day: Earth Day New York
Status Update 1/14/13
Letter of the Day: The Tradition of Earth Day in the Park
Status Update 1/13/13
Letter of the Day: Green Business Depends on Earth Day
Status Update 1/11/13
What They Said vs What They Were Doing Behind Closed Doors
Status Update 1/10/13
Insurance Requirements Can Be Met
Status Update: 1/7/13
Meeting with Filner
Letter of Support from Vicki Estrada
Support Letters from Citizens
Presentation given to Mayor Filner (6MB PDF from Powerpoint presentation)

This was a reminder of the past. In 2012, Park & Rec Department (that manages Balboa Park) initially denied our permit. Their primary stated reason was that EarthFair had "grown too big" for the Park. Now, this is simply not true: EarthFair has been large since the very first one in 1990, and, with some fluctuation from year to year, is the same size it always has been.

Ultimately, when questioned by the City Council at a public hearing, head of Park & Rec relented and said they would give us a permit. EarthFair 2012 was produced as it had been for 23 years.

New Year, Same ...

This year, their reason for the denial is that EarthFair cannot be held because of the Plaza de Panama construction project. When asked for specifics as to why the permit was denied, the official in the mayor's office (that manages Park and Rec and controls the park) offered only vague comments about liability, and refused to meet with us to discuss the issue.

It turns out that their rationale for this is stated in a memo, dated December 21, 2012, from San Diego COO Jay Goldstone. Click here to see this document, along with our notations about the content.

We note in passing that we only received this important letter concerning our future from a local media source, after close of business on Friday, January 4, 2013.

In short, the issues raised in that memo can be addressed. An examination of the construction timeline shows only modest changes would be needed to EarthFair layout to avoid construction issues and proceed without a problem.

Who, and Why?

Who, you might ask, would someone want to block this event - the world's largest free environmental fair and Earth Day celebration, and repeatedly the largest single-day event in Balboa Park. And why?

The parties with a vested interest in keeping Earth Day out of Balboa Park are the Balboa Park lessees (museums, restaurants, etc.). Although we bring 50,000 to 60,000 people to the park every year, very few go into the buildings - they are busy with all the EarthFair activities. This means one day of potential reduced revenue for the museums and restaurants in the park. We have asked for an accounting of the potential lost revenue to the Balboa Park lessees, but we have never received any specific dollar amounts.

Some also complain that their volunteers and employees have a hard time parking during EarthFair. This is certainly true. For the first 5 years or so of EarthFair, we accommodated requests from several museums by providing reserved parking for their staff and volunteers. We have not received any requests for any accommodation for the past 15 years; if needed to reach a solution, that is an easy compromise.

Each year, we offer all Balboa Park institutions free exhibit space at EarthFair. However, with very few exceptions, they do not take us up on this incredible marketing opportunity, right at their own front door. Many EarthFair attendees either have not been to Balboa Park before, or are infrequent visitors. They would be perfect targets for direct marketing, either by a single institution or by several working together. That few have taken advantage of this is puzzling.


Park and Rec claims that this is not just a move against EarthFair, but that they are denying ALL events in the park that require a city-wide permit. So how many is that? As far as we know, two: EarthFair and December Nights (December Nights is also not popular with many lessees, as their contract with the city requires them to provide free admission).

We believe that park management is using the Plaza de Panama construction project as a wedge to continue to implement their desired policy change of moving all large events out of the Central Mesa without public review, and without pursuing amendments that would be required in the Balboa Park Master Plan and the Central Mesa Precise Plan.

Go West

Earlier this year, Park and Rec "offered" us space on the West side of the park (west of the bridge and east of 6th Avenue). For many reasons, EarthFair will just not work in that space. For example:

  • All 350 exhibitor setups happen in one hour; this is possible because of excellent vehicle access to the exhibit areas inside the park. On the West side, there would be no direct access for any exhibitors; all materials would need to be carried long distances and setup would probably take an extra day.
  • There is no parking area for the exhibitors or volunteers within a reasonable walking distance of the site.
  • EarthFair is not a street fair, beer garden, concert venue, or swap meet. Exhibitors need flat, level exhibit space with good access. This renders most of the West side south of Laurel unusable, as flat areas with good access are few and far between.
  • While there are blocks of space north of Laurel that could be used, trying to squash the EarthFair from a rich physical environment into a rectangular box with poor ingress and egress would create more problems that it would solve.
  • Many exhibitors depend on being able to setup on a flat, hard surface (e.g., parking lot). Virtually all of the spaces on the west would be on lawn.
  • Placement of virtually all exhibits on lawn creates access and safety concerns for the handicapped, elderly and young children.
  • Placement of virtually all exhibits on lawn, away from roadways, provides access problems for emergency vehicles and our medical team.
  • Finally, the ambiance of the West side is completely different: the charm of the Central Mesa, vs. a big lawn. Yes, we could probably hold it at the Miramar Landfill... but would anybody come, and would it be Earth Day?

Frankly, if we really thought we could make it work on the West side - even for one year - why would be go to all this trouble fighting with the bureaucracy?

Whose Park?

It is clear the the city planners intended that the Central Mesa of Balboa Park be available for special events such as EarthFair.

The Balboa Park Master Plan (adopted 1989), under the heading "Special Events," states, "New and redeveloped facilities of the Central Mesa will be designed to accommodate multiple uses, including special events and maximum public access."

The Balboa Park Central Mesa Precise Plan (adopted 1992) further states, "The Central Mesa is a cultural center for the region. It is home to culturally significant community organizations, museums, galleries, and theaters. Numerous special community events such as Christmas on the Prado [now December Nights], Earth Day and Kidz Arts take place on the Central Mesa, and major civic events such as parades also occur in this important area of the Park."

This balance of interests is critical to ensure that all San Diegans are able to enjoy Balboa Park, not just those who can afford to pay admission fees.

If Earth Day is forced to leave the park, then there will be no large public events in the core of Balboa Park. Many others have already been driven away; EarthFair will be the last to go.

What You Can Do To Help

EarthFair is a free event, produced by volunteers who donate their time. Whether you have been a volunteer, exhibitor, or attendee, we ask that YOU donate a little of YOUR time to help make sure this San Diego tradition continues.

In a very real sense, the fate of EarthFair is in the hands of Mayor Filner.

1. We request that you send a message to Mayor Bob Filner and Vince Hall, his Chief of Staff.

Your message does not need to be elaborate or long - just simple and authentic. Say what is so for you. How has EarthFair enhanced your life? What new opportunities has it opened up? If you have been an exhibitor, how has it helped your organization? Quantify the benefits if you can. What would it mean to you if there were no EarthFair?
Send email to the mayor at: bobfilner@sandiego.gov, and Vince Hall at vhall@sandiego.gov. If you prefer, you can send a postal letter to:
Office of the Mayor
City Administration Building
202 C St., 11th Floor
San Diego, CA 92101

We would also appreciate receiving a copy; send it to Earth Day Mom (Carolyn Chase), cdc@earthdayweb.org.

2. Send messages to your City Council member:

Sherri Lightner (district 1): sherrilightner@sandiego.gov
Kevin Faulconer (district 2): kevinfaulconer@sandiego.gov
Todd Gloria (district 3): toddgloria@sandiego.gov
Mark Kersey (district 5): MarkKersey@sandiego.gov
Lorie Zapf (district 6): loriezapf@sandiego.gov
Scott Sherman (district 7): ScottSherman@sandiego.gov
David Alvarez (district 8): davidalvarez@sandiego.gov
Marti Emerald (district 9): martiemerald@sandiego.gov
(If you are in District 4, send your message to Todd Gloria, Council president)

We would also appreciate receiving a copy; send it to Earth Day Mom (Carolyn Chase), cdc@earthdayweb.org.

3. Spread the word!

More than a million people have attended EarthFair. Earth Day and the EarthFair in Balboa Park are important to many hundreds of thousands of people in San Diego County. Yet, we are only able to directly contact about 5,000 directly (via email).

Please share what is happening with your friends and associates - have them visit this web page for news. Invite them to pass it along to their friends, as well. Ask them to send their own messages of support to the mayor.

Status Update: 1/7/13

Meeting with Filner

San Diego EarthWorks CEO Carolyn Chase, CFO Chris Klein, and Board Member Ahouva Steinhaus met today with Mayor Bob Filner and Allen Jones, his Deputy Chief of Staff. It was a productive meeting, with both sides airing their concerns.

Following the meeting, Mayor Filner issued the following statement:

"Earth Day is a very important event in the City of San Diego and the City is making every effort to accommodate the event and at the same time provide a safe environment for attendees.

"It is my belief that the best choice is to follow the advice given to relocate the event in order to protect the city from any possible liability due to construction that might be going on at the time of the event.

"I have however, also agreed to review the situation once more after meeting with the event organizers in order to give it every consideration possible."

Once the Mayor makes his decision it will be communicated to the media.

San Diego EarthWorks issued the following response:

"We remain hopeful and believe that, if we can get insurance, we should get the permit.
We also believe that Mayor Filner listened and heard our 23-year unblemished record without any liability and zero lawsuits and always leaving the park cleaner than when we found it. Finally, there is no construction scheduled for Sunday during the EarthFair."

It makes sense for him to be the Earth Day Hero!

We will be continuing our efforts to resolve all the issues.

Letter of Support from Vicki Estrada

We were copied on this email from Vicki Estrada to Mayor Filner, the author of the Balboa Park Master Plan and Central Mesa Precise Plan. Give it a read.

Support Letters from Citizens

In response to our email request, more than 200 EarthFair supporters - some exhibitors and volunteers, and lots of attendees - sent us letters of support written to Mayor Filner. We printed these out and presented them to him. They were truly heart-felt, and some could put tears in your eyes. We have created this special page for excerpts from these letters; give then a look.

Status Update: 1/10/13

Liability Can Be Managed

In our meeting on January 7, Mayor Filner identified "liability" as the key impediment to issuing the Balboa Park permit for EarthFair 2013.

"We have a 23-year record of no insurance claims and no significant damage or incidents," EarthWorks founder Carolyn Chase pointed out. "We have worked around other significant construction projects. If we can get insurance, the permit should be issued."

We received this assessment from an insurance professional that was copied to Mayor Filner:.

"I specialize in placing hard to risk insurance as a wholesale broker and work with many retail insurance broker/agents in San Diego. I’m confident we can insure Earth Day but would need an outline of what the City is requiring before we can proceed. "

San Diego EarthWorks calls upon the city to issue the insurance requirements so the liability issues can be resolved and the permit issued.

Status Update: 1/11/13

What They Said vs What They Were Doing Behind Closed Doors

What They Said in July 2012: This is the memo provided to Applicants for Special Events permit in July 2013. Note the highlighted area touting that:

"... the City of San Diego will make every effort to work with event organizers, Applicants for Facility Use and Park Use Permits and the construction contracting team to successfully implement Special Events and other activities during construction, and to stage construction in order to minimize its impact on the public and accommodate a wide variety of concurrent activities."

What They Were Really Doing Behind Closed Doors: Quite a bit different than the policies revealed in the memo described above, dated 12/21/12, and only made available to organizers on January 4th, 2013. Policies which in fact mean that they will not be working to allow Earth Day at all.

We call upon Mayor Filner and his open government administration to open the process for park permit decision-making and overturn the closed-door policies of the past.

Status Update: 1/28/13

Meeting with Park and Rec Staff

We were invited to meet with city staff on Wednesday, January 23, to discuss holding EarthFair 2013 on the West side of the park instead of in the Central Mesa, the heart of the park. Members of Park & Rec staff (including Park and Recreation Director, Stacey LoMedico) and representatives of other departments (e.g., police, risk management) typically involved in permitting the event were in attendance.

We had evaluated the West side of the park since the city first told us we would have to move EarthFair there. The result of this analysis is that, for logistic reasons, we would be unable to produce EarthFair there.

For purposes of discussion at the meeting, I put our analysis of the west side in this document. This does not include all the issues about the west side; only the most relevant and problematic.

At the meeting, I passed out copies of this document, and the attendees read it. There were no disagreements or challenges to the assertions either during or after the meeting.

In particular, there was no workable solution suggested for the problem of load-in: how to get the exhibitors to unload their exhibit materials and setup in 1 hour. This task is actually easy in the Central Mesa, where most exhibitors can drive right up to their exhibit space. But on the West side, with limited parking and long distances to transport materials, this is impossible. The only proposed solutions proposed were very expensive: take an extra day for setup, or hire lots of staff to do a job too big for the volunteers to handle. There was some hand-waving - "if you just do it it will work out" - but there was no evidence offered that this is possible.

I had another opportunity to ask Stacy Lomedico why we could not hold EarthFair in the Central Mesa, since there would be no construction on Sunday, we had "solved" the problem of how to work around their construction project, and we could provide whatever insurance was required. Her response was a non-answer: that there was a construction schedule but you never knew what might happen, and anyway they had warned us that we might not get a permit.

Status Update: 2/4/13
Eposide IV: A New Hope

Judge Rules Against City in Plaza de Panama Case

This should mean that the 24th annual EarthFair in the heart of Balboa Park should be good to go for April 21st. We are in the process of contacting City officials to confirm that our permits can proceed. We will let you know when we do. Thanks again for your support!

Carolyn Chase / Co-founder and CEO, San Diego EarthWorks
Chris Klein / Co-founder and EarthFair Manager, San Diego EarthWorks

Here is the full story from the Voice of San Diego:

Judge Strikes Down Plaza de Panama Approval

A Superior Court judge struck down a years-in-the-making plan to remake Balboa Park’s western entrance Monday. Judge Timothy Taylor upheld his earlier tentative ruling that the city broke its own law in approving the project.

After hearing 90 minutes of arguments from the city, a group of philanthropists who proposed the plan and an opposing historic preservation group on Friday, Taylor opined that the city had abused its discretion to approve the project, because the land in question already has a “reasonable beneficial use” — even if it is a parking lot — without the Plaza de Panama project. In approving the project last July, the City Council had to make a finding to the opposite.

Taylor responded to City Attorney Jan Goldsmith’s “animated” efforts on Friday to persuade the court to be less rigid in its interpretation of city code:

… [the city] urged this court, in construing the phrase “there is no reasonable beneficial use of a property,” to apply a “flexible” approach .... The court remains unpersuaded. …

This does not mean, however, that the court interprets the key provision of the Municipal Code in a “rigid” or wooden fashion. But the “flexible” approach advocated by the City sounded to the court a lot like a suggestion that the court can find that statute can mean whatever the City wants it to mean if the court agrees (as it does here) with the City’s ultimate conclusion. The law would be rendered hollow indeed if this were the rule.

The judge said the preservation group, Save Our Heritage Organisation (SOHO), is entitled to an order that the city rescind the permits to build the Plaza de Panama project.

It’s not clear what will happen to plans to clear cars from the Plaza de Panama in time for the 2015 celebration of a 1915-1916 exposition that made Balboa Park what we know it as today. Even the opponents, SOHO, desire to rid the plaza of parking, if not traffic. SOHO’s biggest contention with the project was its plan to append a new bridge to the end of the historic Cabrillo Bridge.

The judge reiterated his earlier sentiment that he came to his decision reluctantly:
Weighing heavily on the court is the very real possibility that this decision will cause [the Plaza de Panama Committee] to abandon its efforts to raise money for a long-desired project in Balboa Park, and at a minimum render very difficult a centennial celebration along the lines hoped for by so many.

I'm Kelly Bennett, reporter for VOSD. You can reach me directly at kelly.bennett@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0531.

Also, here is a link to the judge's ruling.



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