Opinion

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

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.

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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.