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Damage to Balboa Park to be repaired by next week

August 13, 2012 |  4:49 pm

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, horrifying visitors. Vegetation was trampled and a drainage pipe broken as revelers danced around and used their squirt guns and filled water balloons.

The event, part of a gay-themed celebration in the Hillcrest neighborhood called "Pride Lite," 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 the crowd arrived, people found that the fountain had been drained as part of a repair project. The crowd then surged to the Lily Pond, which 195-feet in length, 43-feet in width.

The Lily Pond is one of the iconic parts of the park dating before World War I and is often photographed for calendars and tourism promotions.

Last year a similar event at the park was carried off 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 launched an investigation.

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

Why a private security firm hired to patrol the park at night did not see the rowdiness and call police is unclear. LoMedico pointed out that the park area is 1,100 acres and that the security guard could have been patrolling elsewhere.

Of one thing there is little doubt. "The public is furious," said LoMedico.

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-- Tony Perry in San Diego

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