Balboa Park is falling apart

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SAN DIEGO -- For nearly 150 years, Balboa Park has been San Diego's crown jewel, each year attracting millions of visitors with its lush landscaping and magnificent museums.

But when you take a closer look, "it's falling apart," as Balboa Park Heritage Association Chairman David Lundin puts it.

There's mold and mildew on the park's iconic structures, including the recently refurbished California Tower. Termites and dry rot are eating through the dome of the Botanical Building. And a 300-pound chunk of a museum facade has yet to be replaced.

"Shame the politicians. Embarrass them," Lundin said.

He said it's not too late to save the park, but it must be done quickly.

Lundin is calling out City Hall in a new ad campaign showing what he claims is "aggressive neglect" by leaders. FOX 5 got the first look at shaming signs which are set to appear on buses and at the airport. Those signs graphically highlight the park's problems and lack of city action.

"If we don't do something dramatic in the next few years, it will be just like it was in the ‘70s with buildings falling down," Lundin said. "If the park was a condominium association, the California Department of Real Estate would have shut it down."

Mayor Kevin Faulconer's proposed 2017 budget has no money for the estimated $300 million to $500 million needed to restore the landmark's luster.

During a tour, FOX 5 found a maintenance crew repairing an old wooden deck, but little else.

"It is particularly galling to see any area of Balboa Park not fully utilized," Councilman Todd Gloria said.

Gloria, whose district includes the park, is concerned about the old Starlight Amphitheater, which is weed-infested, vandalized and a homeless hotel.

"We have hundred-year-old structures that need attention," Gloria said.

Gloria said when the state took away redevelopment money, it stopped plans to demolish the Central Operations Station and convert it into open park space. Also, an ongoing pollution problem has prevented a project to turn the Arizona Landfill site into more park land.

"Apparently it’s OK to raise taxes to expand the convention center and to build a new football stadium," Gloria said. "Yet it’s not acceptable to do that for our neighborhoods and it’s infrastructure. I don’t get those priorities. I don’t agree with them."

Balboa Park Conservancy President Tomas Herrera-Mishler doesn't fault the city completely, but admits there's a lot of work to be done.

"I think there's certainly faded glamour here that needs to be polished up,” Mishler said.

All three men agree the park needs fixing, but they each offer a different solution.

"Hotel taxes could be used to pay debt service on a bond initiative," Lundin said.

"Donate to one of our wonderful groups working in this park to make it better," Mishler said.

Lastly, Gloria's idea is to ask for donations from the 300,000 visitors at the annual December Nights celebration.