Pro, anti blocs showdown on Burnham parking issue

BAGUIO CITY – Pro and anti-blocs showed their might anew during the third public hearing on the proposed construction of a multi-story parking building at the auditorium site at Burnham Park during the latest public consultation conducted by the City Council last Tuesday. The talks, the third round in the series, was jointly spearheaded by the Committees on Urban Planning, Lands and Housing chaired by Councilor Edgar Avila and on Public Works under Councilor Mylen Yaranon and on Public Utilities, Transportation and Traffic Legislations under Councilor Benny Bomogao. Arch. Robert Romero of the University of the Cordilleras who drafted the UC Burnham Park Master Development Plan emphasized the need to provide a multi-level parking building at the pinpointed site to maintain the resource carrying capacity of the park and realize the goal to pedestrianize the same. “Let’s accept the reality that cars are now a necessity and the park is a tourist destination. By deciding to provide a parking structure in the area which was a result of extensive studies and sustainable approach to planning and design, we are just trying to systematize and give order by putting a place for everything,” Romero said. Traffic Engr. Teodorico Tan reiterated that building parking facilities not only in Burham Park but also in other parks and barangays are the best solution to the City’s traffic problem adding that this is supported by facts and experiences acquired from his years of serving as consultant of the city Traffic and Transportation Committee. He said the “carmaggedons” experienced in the City recently due to the influx of visitors are proofs that the City a place to keep these vehicles away from the roads. Eliseo Corson president of the Burnham stall owners Old Auditorium Area group said majority of the members of the association are supportive of the plan as it will provide convenience to tourists and park goers. He suggested that more facilities be put up in other areas like the City Camp lagoon, at the vacant lot beside the Lion’s Clubhouse and in every barangay. Chinese University of Hongkong Prof. Ian Morley, a vising professor at the University of the Philippines Baguio, said Baguio is “not a normal city” and therefore needs to be managed with delicacy. In the paper he presented to the Avila’s committee, Morely dissuaded building at the park to maintain its heritage, cultural significance and its being a refuge during disasters and prevent its commercialization. Morely also challenged Engr. Tan’s earlier pronouncement that the City’s traffic problem can be addressed by parking buildings rather than by an efficient transport system. He said there were documents, one of which was dated 1972, that “raised the need in Baguio for an efficient public transport system” because of the expected increase in population which has now become a reality. He cited four points to debunk Tan’s statement “based on experiences of transport development and city planning in history:” “Car parks (are) known to actually increase people’s use of cars and lead to new traffic bottlenecks; For (such) strategy to be successful, it must consider (the goals) of how it will ease mobility, improve distribution of urban resources reduce air pollution, and enhance cultural attractiveness in the sense of helping preserve a city’s unique character..; Car parking strategies have to work alongside areas of governance (and has to be connected to) other governmental policies; and Any flawed car parking strategy will degrade… traffic movement and the interaction of people detrimentally impact the environment and social sphere. ”Dr. Achilles Costales also of UPB said instead of building parking buildings, the City should instead address the volume of vehicles by setting stiffer penalties and stricter implementation of traffic rules and by discouraging the use of cars and encouraging instead walking and biking. The Dept. of Tourism Cordillera (DOT-CAR) under Regional Director Venus Tan reiterated its official statement opposing the parking construction and called for the retention of the park as a heritage park, landmark and cultural heritage to preserve its cultural and historical integrity “We should maintain it as open space. Heavy buildings have no place in the area to protect it (because) the cost of not protecting it will be much much higher,” the statement said. Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority representative lawyer Michelle Rivera also manifested her office’s objection to the plan in favor of the open space policy and recommended that the City look for an alternative site instead. UPB Chancellor Dr. Raymond Rovillos said the City should ditch its commercialization and income generation goals in addressing the increasing number of tourists and instead focus on regulating the “growth” itself. “Why not regulate growth instead of respond to the pressures of it? In this case, why not regulate the coming in of tourists?,” he said and warned stall owners not to be easily swayed by the “false” promises that they will benefit from the construction of a parking building and instead be open to the possibility that they too would be displaced from their place of livelihood. This prompted Councilor Avila to caution him against misleading and premature statements. Avila brought up the possibility of his asking agencies concerned for their opinion on the applicability and practicability of the 1906 doctrine upholding the dictum that “parks are beyond the commerce of man” in the light of the changing times and needs of the people. He cited the decision of former President Marcos in the 1970s that allowed the late journalist and philanthropist Teodoro Valencia to build a restaurant in a park to provide livelihood to the blind. “If we are to strictly adhere to the doctrine then that should have not been allowed because that is essentially commercial in nature. Moreso, we should also be disallowing all commercial activities down to the smallest like the selling of balut, taho and the like in our parks but we are not,” he said in an interview. He said he plans to send a letter-inquiry to the Department of Justice for its legal opinion on the issue. During the hearing, Baguio resident Peter Puzon said the are must be maintained as an open space in case of disasters and suggested the conduct of a referendum on the issue. Baguio old-timers Ruby Giron, Ruby Carino and Mita Dimalanta assailed the City’s prioritization of the needs of tourists over those of the residents. Giron asked for the conduct of a comparative study on the economic contribution of tourists and students to determine which sector contributes more and thus needs more attention from the City. Carino was more blunt exclaiming, “We don’t need tourists to survive!” as he dismissed the parking plan as a “humongous abomination.”She suggested that the funds and efforts intended for the plan must be redirected instead to the modernization of the City’s sewerage system, the lack of which she said has been turning the City into a “sewer city” causing stench and posing danger to the City’s water table. “Soon we will have no potable water and will stink so much that it will drive away those tourists you all so love!” she scolded./Aileen P. Refuerzo


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