The Zoo May Seek Compromise

— First, one thing is clear: There is nothing wrong with public money going into this project. Balboa Park and its zoo are perhaps San Diego's most precious assets. The park draws tourists and helps boost the economy.

But the city keeps wasting funds for pro-sports facilities. In the 1960s, Roberts was chairman of the committee to raise money to build the stadium that is now named Qualcomm. However, "I go to a baseball game every two or three years, and I haven't been to a Chargers game in a decade," he says. "But I go to Balboa Park every week." The park draws 12 million people a year from across the economic spectrum for a wide variety of attractions.

But there are several financing questions. One option is for the city to sell revenue bonds based on a parking fee. But that parking fee would hurt other institutions. Another option is for the city to sell general obligation bonds. But if they were only for the zoo's project, other attractions would suffer, point out critics.

On one point there is unanimity: Lack of parking is a critical problem at Balboa Park. Public funds should provide some of the solution. But there is a big snag: the city is already in bad economic shape, facing a huge deficit and suffering with an eroding infrastructure and a woefully underfunded pension plan needing monetary infusions. But the people deserve the opportunity to choose how their funds will be parceled out and how.

One critical issue that is barely being discussed is the cerebral quality of attractions. Many people believe that the zoo and other Balboa Park institutions have already dumbed down to attract visitors. Too much pressure to bring in visitors, particularly at a higher price, could ruin the flavor of Balboa Park, if it has not done so already. Roberts and others are concerned about what the zoo might do with its additional acreage. "I don't think the zoo should be a Disneyland," says Roberts. "Already, it is too interested in feeding children junk food."

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