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Council Defies Critics, OKs Statue of Balboa for Park


A controversial 33-foot statue of the Spanish explorer Balboa--described by critics as "an eyesore and a joke"--will lay claim to a spot in Balboa Park, the San Diego City Council decided Monday.

The bronze statue, created by Tijuana artist Guillermo Castano and donated to the city by Elizabeth and Gaye North, will be erected in the Palisades area of the park, a section now occupied by parking lots but earmarked as a landscaped pedestrian zone.

It depicts Vasco Nunez de Balboa standing, holding a flag.

"We want everyone in San Diego to love it and enjoy it," Elizabeth North said after the council's 5-2 vote. "The large majority of the general public will be enthusiastic, but there will always be factions that disapprove."

The statue's siting in the park had previously been recommended by several of the council's advisory bodies, but it was not approved by the city's Commission for Arts and Culture in an October vote.

At Monday's council meeting, a small group of historians, artists and arts administrators spoke against both the symbolism behind the statue and its placement in the park.

"We generally associate the word genocide with the Nazis and the Jewish Holocaust in Europe, not with Columbus and Balboa," said Deborah Small, an artist and educator at UC San Diego.

"But, for the indigenous people of the Americas, what happened during the first hundred years of the (Spanish) conquest resulted in genocide, with millions of deaths from guns, swords, dogs, slavery, starvation and disease."

Others speaking in opposition called the statue "dated in style and concept" and called for a "more democratic, competitive search for a work of art for the site."

Most council members, however, praised the work and its donors.

"The Norths set a fine, fine example for the city," Councilwoman Abbe Wolfsheimer said. "We have to admire the pioneering spirit that goes into this gift. It is a missing link, the one thing that has been missing in Balboa Park, a representation of its namesake."

Newly elected council members George Stevens and Valerie Stallings voted against the statue, and Bob Filner abstained.

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