Election Section

New: Vote No on Alameda County Measure A1 (Opinion)

By Laura Baker,East Bay Chapter of the California Native Plant Society
Wednesday September 26, 2012 - 10:29:00 AM

The East Bay Chapter of the California Native Plant Society is a member of the organized opposition to the Oakland Zoo's county-wide parcel tax measure, Measure A1. We are one of the signers to the argument against the measure that appears in the voter pamphlet. This measure is not what the zoo is claiming it is--all about humane animal care. It's about getting Alameda county taxpayers to foot the bill for the big ridgeline expansion and 34,000 sq. foot visitor center, restaurant, and office complex that zoo management insists they will be building on unspoiled Knowland Park, Oakland's largest park and an area of amazing plant and wildlife diversity. There is another side to this measure besides the cute animals that the zoo displays to divert attention away from the real issues. 

The project was approved by Oakland with no clear source of funding, despite numerous requests from the public for more information at City Council meetings. Clearly, the zoo executives were counting on friends on the county Board of Supervisors to put this on the ballot, and now they want to deny that they want to use the money to pay for the expansion, despite the fact that the measure clearly uses the word "construction" and "expansion" and is so broadly written that they can use it for virtually anything. 

Voters who take the trouble to peer behind the deceptive title of the measure will discover that the proposed ordinance would turn the private non-profit zoo board (East Bay Zoological Society) into a taxing authority with none of the open government provisions that guarantee transparency to the public in how their money is used. The EBZS has a privately selected board, and it does not have to abide by the California Public Records Act or the Brown Act which regulates access to public meetings. Zoo management claims that the hand-picked citizens oversight committee that would be appointed would provide adequate accountability, but the committee would simply be asked to confirm that the zoo is spending the funds according to the expenditure plan which gives carte blanche to management to spend the money any way it wants. 

Given that the proposed expansion is currently estimated to cost $72 million and the zoo has been either unwilling or unable to show that it has the money to develop it, it's clear that money from Measure A1 will be used to fund the sprawling project that would pave over 56 acres of prime native plant and wildlife habitat. The cruel irony is that the themepark exhibit is aimed at teaching children how California lost its native species like the wolf, grizzly bear, and mountain lion from habitat destruction, yet mountain lions today make use of Knowland Park which forms an important part of a wildlife corridor. The project would destroy two rare plant communities that are priceless remnants of our natural heritage that should be preserved intact. 

The zoo already receives millions of dollars in annual public subsidies, and they showed a profit of over half a million dollars last year. If they can't afford to care for the animals that they have, as they claim, then why are they planning to double their size and operating expenses with the bloated expansion project? Clearly, something doesn't add up and the public is entitled to know. For more information visit our website at www.saveknowland.org. 

Vote No on A1!