Lily-gate sparked after thousands descend on Balboa Park, causing destruction to beloved lily pond
By Anthony King | SDUN Editor
Damaged caused to the lily pond in Balboa Park early Sunday morning on Aug. 12 quickly turned into a political battle between the two mayoral candidates, and sparked a public outcry over who should be held responsible.
Promoted on social media, a midnight water-gun fight brought an estimated 1,000 to 2,000 participants to the center of Balboa Park. During the melee, participants caused approximately $10,000 in damage to park facilities, with the lily pond sustaining the most damage.
Resting in front of the Botanical Building, damage to the lily pond included the breakage of a drainage-pipe valve, causing significant water loss and, in part, leading to the loss of a great number of the lilies in plant boxes scattered throughout the pond.
Participants also trampled landscape around the pond, killing the newly planted vegetation. There were no turtle or koi fish, as was previously reported.
In video that has surfaced from the event, several people are shown entering the water pond to fill water guns. Damage to a second fountain located in the Plaza de Panama also occurred, though to a lesser extent.
“I am devastated that people caused damage to Balboa Park,” said District Three Councilmember Todd Gloria. “The Park is the jewel of our City, and while it is the location for many fun public activities and events, destruction there cannot be condoned. The people who damaged public property must be held accountable.”
Exactly who should be held accountable sparked the mayoral candidates – Bob Filner and Carl DeMaio – to enter the conversation, which has now been dubbed “lily-gate.”
In a press release on Tuesday, Aug. 14, Filner said Hale Media, Inc. owner Johnathan Hale was partially responsible. Hale is DeMaio’s partner.
“This is felony vandalism of the Crown Jewel of San Diego. Carl DeMaio’s partner reportedly helped to organize it. I call on Carl to condemn Jonathan [sic] Hale’s criminal actions,” Filner said in the release.
The connection between Hale and the event extends to a column posted on Hale Media’s San Diego Gay & Lesbian News, in which the water-gun fight was listed.
Further, one of the event’s organizers is reportedly a former employee of Hale Media.
Following Filner’s statement, the DeMaio campaign released a rebuttal, saying San Diego Police Department confirmed Hale “was not a participant nor an organizer of” the incident. Calling Filner a bully, K.B. Forbes, DeMaio’s communications director who released the statement, said, “Filner makes unsubstantiated and scurrilous claims.”
The water-gun fight was organized on Facebook by nine individuals, as a way to beat the heat; a repeat of a similar event last year. Last year’s event brought approximately 400 people to the park, and there was no damage reported.
One of the nine organizers came forward Wednesday, Aug. 15 in an exclusive interview with KFMB-TV Channel 8. Matthew Hardick, who works in Uptown, told Channel 8 he had contacted police regarding his involvement. The news station reported Hardick was “extremely heartsick and apologetic” about the occurrence.
“I’m devastated and I’m so remorseful for what happened, and to all the people this has affected and angered,” Hardick said to Channel 8, adding that the spirit of the evening was one of “laughter and joy” until people began to be pushed into the pond.
Harding also told Channel 8 the event had nothing to do with DeMaio or Hale.
Mayor Jerry Sanders released a statement following the incident, calling those who did the damage “delinquents.”
“We will hold those who did this accountable for their actions – which may be criminal – and for every penny it costs to return this area to its original beauty,” he said in the statement.
No charges have been filed, and an investigation is expected to take several months.
Currently, workers have since repaired the valve and re-landscaped the area, restoring the lily pond to its regular state. The organization Friends of Balboa Park created a fund to help repair the damage.
“I appreciate those who love Balboa Park enough to donate to help pay for the repairs,” Gloria said, “and would encourage them to donate to the Friends of Balboa Park, which partners with the City year-round to support the needs of our Park.”
Donations are being accepted online at FriendsofBalboaPark.org.