Op-Ed: Vote No on Alameda County Parcel Tax, Measure A1

By Delia Taylor

Delia Taylor is on the Board of Directors of the East Bay Chapter of the California Native Plant Society. She has lived in Berkeley since 1980.

The Oakland Zoo claims it needs more money to care for its animals and keep educational programs going.  But the Oakland Tribune reports that the zoo’s operating budget is close to balanced and, when asked, zoo officials were unable to produce long-range financial projections to justify a new parcel tax. The zoo is planning a $72 million expansion further into Knowland Park, where the zoo is now located. The zoo claims that $40 million has been set aside for this expansion but is unwilling or unable to produce proof of that. The zoo is operated by a private non-profit organization that is not required to follow state open public records law. Measure A1 is a 25-year tax for a privately run operation with no true public accountability.

Even if you love the zoo, this is bad public policy!

But what bothers me is the expansion plan. The zoo’s theme for Earth Day this spring was caring for the habitat in one’s own back yard.  In the zoo’s backyard, Knowland Park, there still exists rare native grassland, a unique and rare community of plants called maritime chaparral, acres of oak woodland, and rare and unusual plants. It is home to our own native animals. The expansion as planned will destroy or greatly damage this high-value habitat. Zoo executives have refused to consider less damaging options or to save the rest of the park through a conservation easement.

Zoo executives say that no Measure A1 funds can be used toward the expansion. This is not true. See the Alameda County Voter Information Pamphlet — Section 1, Chapter 2.30, H. “Financing of new or renovation of existing Oakland Zoo capital facilities is within the definition of services and projects.”   Dr. Joel Parrott has made it clear that there is a grand design for turning the Oakland Zoo into the largest zoo in California (see the lead article in the zoo’s magazine Roar, Summer-Fall 2011). This grand design would greatly damage the rest of Knowland Park. Since the tax goes for 25 years, that would be a lot of damage.

Knowland Park, a wild land park, should be protected and kept as natural open space for the animals as well as for the public, scientists, students and teachers. The California Native Plant Society, the Sierra Club, and other major environmental organizations, as well as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, have opposed the expansion. The California Department of Fish and Game has recommended that the expansion be located to a less sensitive site, or included within the current zoo footprint. The East Bay Express, Oakland Tribune, Berkeley Daily Planet and Green Party recommend No on Measure A1. Please see www.saveknowland.org for more information.

Berkeleyside welcomes submissions of op-ed articles of 500 to 800 words. We ask that we are given first refusal to publish. Topics should be Berkeley-related and local authors are preferred. Please email submissions to us. Berkeleyside will publish op-ed pieces at its discretion.

Visit Voter’s Edge Berkeley, Berkeleyside’s non-partisan voting guide to the ten measures on the Berkeley ballot. Visit Berkeleyside’s Election 2012 section to see all our coverage in the run-up to November 6.

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  • Alina

    i couldn’t agree more.   IF indeed the money was needed to upgrade old cages, buy food and medical care for the animals, i think i’d be on board.  and who knows maybe they need some money for that… but i am very bothered that the zoo wants to expand.  knowland park or no knowland park,  don’t matter.  in hard times you don’t expand! period.  you hunker down and try to stretch every penny you have…. i know that’s what i (and many other folks in the bay area) are doing right now.  asking us to fund some zoo expansion right now is just plain rude.  oakland is closing schools and has an understaff police force and you want money for a zoo expansion?!?! please… 

  • The Sharkey

    After being initially in favor of A1, I also ended up voting NO for the same reasons.
    If they really so cash strapped that they need this parcel tax for basic operations, why are they planning a $70 million expansion, and how did they find enough money to put $40 million aside already?

    I like the zoo, but the numbers just don’t add up.

  • Alina

    agreed. how did they get $40 million (!!!) worth of private funds?! and why can’t they use some of that for ‘animal care’?  if indeed their donors care about the animals, then the zoo can go to them and explain that the expansion will have to wait and the $40 million will go to animal care for now.  

    to sum up, the zoo has money.  they just need to get their spending priorities straight.  

  • southberkeleyres

    In addition they have spent close to 1 million dollars for their mailings, the director makes more than $200,000 a year, they have broken election law etc.  Please check out the revealing East Bay Express article. http://www.eastbayexpress.com/92510/archives/2012/10/18/oakland-zoo-operators-violate-election-laws I resent the deceit and will vote no.  Trying to tug on people’s heartstrings as if they didn’t have enough money to feed the lions….. ridiculous.  I also care about the horned owl shown in a video of a Knowland Park supporter whose environment would be threatened by the expansion.  How many more non-profits will want to start asking the tax payers for parcel taxes and bond measures if this passes?
    How many more tax and bond measures are deceiving in such a clever way? 

  • Charles_Siegel

    I agree with the other commenters.  I am voting NO ON A1 because the zoo should not be expanding in the park, but I might back a similar bond to let them expand by creating a satellite zoo somewhere in the center of Oakland, where it would be easily accessible.  Anyone who has been to the Central Park zoo in New York will know what I am talking about. 

  • stilettoace

    And just wait till you see the kind of folks are on the zoo’s “Independent board”.  Real Estate developers, a partner in a real estate law firm, seriously heavy “biz dev” guys, “wealth managers” and VP’s from Chevron and Clorox.  Not the kind of people who are used to losing sleep about “lion treats”.  Or even about a tiny $72m development for that matter.  Makes me wonder what ELSE they’ve got in mind for our money.

  • southberkeleyres

    Do the Save Knowland Park people have any ideas or action plan to see people behind this exposed and prosecuted for breaking election law?  This is downright deception.

  • Peggy

    I love the Oakland Zoo but will  vote NO on A-1. “Measure A1 is a 25-year tax for a privately run operation with no true public accountability.” That’s all you need to know. A 25 year parcel tax on a non-public entity? No way. Even our own beloved BSEP Measure comes up more often than that, and has excellent  oversght — monthly public meetings by elected committee members. That’s how to oversee a parcel tax. 
    ===> A-1 has a once a year rubber stamp. Did I mention NO WAY? NO on A-1. 

  • I
    am thoroughly disgusted by the incredibly expensive campaign of
    misinformation put out by the Oakland Zoo in their attempts to pass
    Measure A1. Today I got two robo-calls from Kelly Sorenson, head of the
    Ventano Wildlife Society (think Condor reintroductions). Kelly stated
    that we shouldn’t be swayed by “lies” from opponents, and that we should
    “join him” in voting for Measure A1. But Kelly isn’t an Alameda Co
    resident. I returned the favor and called Kelly today. I informed him
    that he should have spent a bit more time educating himself before
    becoming a shill for the Zoo.

    Last week, I received an expensive glossy flyer touting the support
    of Barbara Lee, who in this case does NOT speak for me, and the S.F.
    Chronicle, whose reporters received several behind the scenes zoo tours.
    Awww, lookit all the cute animals! And there goes journalistic

    Buses have that “poor starving lion” cartoon on their sides, billboards around Oakland do, too.
    In fact, I would say, hands down, the Oakland Zoo has spent more money locally than anyone on any other campaign.

    When that kind of money and blanketing disinformation campaign is
    being waged, you have to wonder why. Over a million bucks and counting
    will buy a lotta ZooPreme for the lion. Perhaps the real reason is Zoo
    Director Joel Parrot’s megalomania…he hopes to have “the largest zoo in
    NA” by expanding the Zoo into pristine areas of upper Knowland Park.

    Not on my dime.

    Debbie Viess
    Oakland and Alameda Co. resident