By Leo Wilson
Just days ago, the annual December Nights event took place in Balboa Park. It likely attracted over 100,000 people, a substantial number of whom either arrived by bus shuttle along Sixth Avenue, or parked in Bankers Hill and walked to the event.
As is often the case with special events, the streets in Bankers Hill were gridlocked with traffic, and all available parking in the community was taken by those attending December Nights.
The Bankers Hill community supports special events like this in Balboa Park. However, as the number of special events and the population of Bankers Hill have increased, issues were bound to arise. Often multiple special events are held in one month. Besides the resulting traffic and parking impacts, there is an additional problem with amplification of loud music impacting adjacent neighborhoods. The loud noise often begins as early as 5 a.m. in the morning, and at times exceeds 90 decibels — the equivalent of a motorcycle at 25 feet or a power mower, and can cause ear damage in eight hours of exposure.
Bankers Hill is often referred to as one of San Diego’s “smart growth” success stories. However, the city’s permissive attitude in regards to regulating special events in Balboa Park is negatively impacting the quality of life of both the Bankers Hill business and residential community, which often experiences earsplitting noise.
About a decade ago, the Balboa Park Committee formed a West Mesa Subcommittee to address issues involving special events. It is chaired by two Balboa Park Committee members, and its membership is primarily made up of representatives from the adjacent Bankers Hill community.
In 2009, the West Mesa Subcommittee prepared a report titled “Balboa Park Special Events on 6th Avenue & the West Mesa, Sharing Boundaries with the Community.” The report discussed how to minimize parking and traffic congestion in adjacent communities during special events, and addressed the problem of excessive noise through the proper placement and volume of loudspeakers.
Many of the recommendations from the report were incorporated into the updated Uptown Community Plan, which the City Council approved in November 2016. The community plan now recommends a “buffer zone between special events and Sixth Avenue” be created, and that a decibel limit at the level specified in the city’s noise ordinance be enforced.
On Jan. 17, 2017, the West Mesa Subcommittee passed a motion requesting the recommendations contained in the community plan be implemented, and specifically that a noise buffer and decibel limit for special event amplified sound be adopted. The motion stated:
- That sound systems for any special events on the West Mesa of Balboa Park be placed at least 50 feet back (east) of the east curb of Sixth Avenue. This will create a 50-foot buffer zone between amplified sound equipment and Sixth Avenue, reducing unsafe noise levels in the adjacent community.
- That the sound noise level from amplified sound at special events in Balboa Park be limited to 70 decibels at the east curb of Sixth Avenue.
On Jan. 23, 2017, the Metro San Diego Community Development Corporation, representing Bankers Hill businesses, property owners and other stakeholders, voted unanimously to support the West Mesa Subcommittee motion.
These requests are reasonable, and would establish the beginning of what is often referred to as a “good neighbor policy” between Balboa Park special events and the adjacent Bankers Hill community. However, despite strong community support for the West Mesa Subcommittee motion, the city has not moved forward with the adoption of the recommendations. Hopefully, what has been almost a decade of delay on this issue will end in 2018.
—Leo Wilson is administrator for Metro San Diego CDC and is a Bankers Hill resident.