Op-Ed: Vote yes on Measure A1

By Nik Dehejia

Nik Dehejia is Director, Strategic Initiatives, of the East Bay Zoological Society

It’s one thing to debate the issues and quite another to spread misinformation or outright lies about current ballot initiatives. Whatever your opinion of Measure A1 (and I hope everyone votes YES!), we need to hold people accountable to the truth. Sadly, Ms. Taylor of the California Native Plant Society (CNPS) in her post of Nov. 1 has resorted to continued misinformation and simple lies.

The Oakland Zoo is a community-benefit, non-profit institution that is owned by the City of Oakland. We have been in the community since 1922. The Zoo and City of Oakland renewed its management agreement, in place since the 1980s, for the next 30 years, never before done by the City and demonstrating the value of the Zoo to the community. The Zoo always has carefully managed both private and public funds and is proud to have the highest rating on Charity Navigator, an independent charity evaluating organization.

The Oakland Zoo is one of the most respected in the country. As anyone who has spent time at the Zoo knows, we are not a “theme park,” as some have suggested. We have earned the respect of many animal welfare groups, including PETA, the Humane Society, and In Defense of Animals for our unapologetic commitment to the welfare of animals.

If you read the Measure A1 Expenditure Plan, you will see that, by law, the money must be used for animal care, children’s educational programs and maintaining the Zoo’s affordability. It does specify that money would go towards upgrading animal enclosures and repairing animal shelters – but this “construction” is a far cry from using the funds to expand the Zoo. The real truth here is that CNPS and local neighbors have tried to stop progress. Keep in mind, from 2008-2011, the Oakland Zoo engaged in a public, democratic process with a more than 1,000 page environmental document to review the California Project. CNPS and neighbors challenged it every step of the way. They even challenged it in court and lost.  Still not satisfied with the democratic and legal processes of our society, they have now chosen to take a stand against Measure A1. Measure A1 is not a referendum on an approved project that is moving forward.

In direct contrast to Ms. Taylor’s lie, PETA on June 14, 2010 wrote a letter to the Zoo stating, “We are writing to express our strong support for the Oakland Zoo and its goal of providing exceptional facilities for the animals in its care. The Oakland Zoo’s progressive policies do the city proud, are extremely well-respected in the international zoo community, and have long stood as a model for other facilities to emulate…The Oakland Zoo’s new California Project will provide permanent sanctuary for nonreleasable native wildlife as well as temporary holding facilities for animals who are taken to the zoo by the California Department of Fish and Game. The project is exemplary…This facility design demonstrates that the zoo makes animal well-being a top priority and recognizes that animals need space…”We at the Zoo have an awesome responsibility and we take it seriously.

Measure A1 is about critically needed animal care, maintaining and expanding essential education programs, and ensuring the Zoo stays affordable to all levels of society. Measure A1 funds will be closely monitored by an independent oversight committee comprised of nine members, appointed by five different agencies, and representing six stakeholder groups, including the League of Women Voters. The Zoo appoints two of the nine members and your publicly-elected Board of Supervisors, with accountability from the Oversight Committee, have ultimate authority to ensure funds are spent according to the Expenditure Plan (Section 2.30.050E of Ordinance). The tax of $1/month cannot be changed by the Zoo, the City of Oakland, or even the Board of Supervisors. Only you, the voters, can elect to change it.

Don’t just take our word and commitment. Listen to science and environmental education teachers; veterinarians; environmental and conservation organizations (e.g. East Bay Regional Park District, Bay Area Puma Project, Ventana Wildlife Society, and Wildlife Conservation Network), progressive democrats (e.g. Congresswoman Barbara Lee, State Senator Loni Hancock, Alameda Democratic Party, East Bay Young Democrats, Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club) and leading newspapers (San Francisco Chronicle and San Francisco Bay Guardian), all of whom support the Oakland Zoo and planning for its healthy future via Measure A1.

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