Damage to San Diego Balboa Park’s lily pond described

SAN DIEGO — Damage done to a historic part of Balboa Park during a massive squirt-gun fight that got out of control will be repaired by next week, the city’s park and recreation director promised Monday.

Several thousand dollars in damage was inflicted on the lily pond and surrounding vegetation in front of the Botanical Building. Vegetation was trampled and a drainage pipe broken as revelers danced around, fired squirt guns and tossed water balloons.

The event, part of a gay-themed “Pride Lite” celebration in the Hillcrest neighborhood, was advertised on the Internet, including the San Diego Gay & Lesbian News site.

People were advised to show up about midnight Saturday near the fountain outside the Natural History Museum. But when they arrived, people found that the fountain had been drained as part of a repair project. The crowd then surged to the lily pond, one of the iconic parts of the park dating to the days before World War I and often photographed for calendars and tourism promotions.

Last year a similar event took place without incident. But Saturday night, the crowd, estimated at several hundred or even more than a thousand, became rowdy.

On Monday, Mayor Jerry Sanders blasted the “delinquents” who damaged the pond and vowed that those responsible will be found and required to pay restitution and possibly face criminal charges. The Police Department has launched an investigation.

Stacey LoMedico, park and recreation department director, said the damage was the worst vandalism she’s seen in her decade with the department. She said that although no koi or turtles were killed, the creatures “were greatly stressed” by the experience; a fish contractor has been brought in to evaluate the koi, she said.

Why the private security firm that patrols the park at night was unaware of the rowdy gathering is unclear. LoMedico pointed out that the park covers 1,100 acres and that the security guard could have been patrolling elsewhere.

Of one thing there is little doubt: “The public is furious,” LoMedico said.