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.

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

    nope. not going to happen. you don’t have my $12/yr for the next $25 years.  sorry but the zoo expansion is not high on my list of things that i’m willing to be taxed for.  i do not think it’s right that the zoo is trying to expand in these times.

  • Alina

    and you can say that my taxes won’t go to the expansion. that they are going to animal care.  but that is besides the point.  the point is that the zoo has $40 million (!!!) ready to be spent on the expansion.  why not spend THAT money on animal care?… 
    i think the zoo has its priorities all messed up… 

  • Yesona1

    Funding for the Zoo expansion (California Trail) was approved by the voters of Oakland through a bond measure in 2002 and other funds received are one time capital funds restricted by law to the specific project. It can’t not buy animal food, medicines, or to provide veterinary care. Measure A1 is operational support. $1/month will provide this care for animals and support for environmental education.

  • John Reimann

    Competing claims are made on what A1 can and cannot pay for. Nik Dehajia is counting on people not actually reading the full measure in all its fine print. Paragraph H says: “Financing the construction of new or renovation of existing Oakland Zoo capital facilities is within the definition of services and projects” The Zoo already used bait-and-switch when they got ahold of the land above the existing zoo. What makes anybody think they aren’t doing it again? Just check out who is on the Board of Directors of the zoo and think about if you can trust these people: “Jim Wunderman is President and CEO of the Bay Area Council, a business-backed public policy organization…. Sebastian DiGrande is a Partner and Managing Director at the Boston Consulting Group, a global management consulting firm and the world’s leading advisor on business strategy…. Daniel Boggan, Jr…. assisted the municipal firm of Siebert, Branford & Shank Co. in business development from 2003 to 2006…. Cassady Hudson is a Senior Revenue and Royalty Analyst at Hands-on Mobile…. Mark McClure is a partner at California Capital and Investment Group, a real estate brokerage and development firm based in Oakland CA. He has worked on both residential and commercial development projects primarily in the City of Oakland…. Lora Tabor is the General Manager, Corporate & Services HR, for Chevron Corporation in San Ramon….”

    Somebody here is playing fast and loose with the truth. Who is it?

  • The Sharkey

    If they were asking for funds for expansion, I might have approved it.
    But asking for funds to “feed the starving animals in Oakland” and then using those funds to pay for a major expansion? No dice.

  • Jean Robertson

    Speaking of lies and liars, Nik Dehejia takes the cake.  This is a guy who apparently will say anything to get his measure passed. Interestingly, the text of the measure A-1 specifically states that the first order of business, should the measure pass, is that the zoo (and it’s corporate non profit arm) will be reimbursed completely, by the tax paying public, for all of the Zoo’s campaign expenses!  (and we are talking around a million dollars of campaign expenses, folks!  They cleverly wrote that into their parcel tax measure).  Another cleverly written text of the tax measure is that if A-1 passes, funds collected from the taxpayers will be used for all legal expenses, to defend the measure, if challenged in court!  I imagine they would have a whole slew of high priced lawyers, payed for by taxpayers. But who can afford to fight them?  They are outspending the grassroots organizations that oppose their grandiose expansion scheme by at least 80 to 1, and have been doing so, with taxpayer monies since day 1.  If the zoo is coming to the taxpaying public begging for funds because they cannot afford to maintain their current facility and their current educational programs, why are they so bent on a huge expansion?  And why should the public support such a direction?  When the zoo can come back to the public with an environmentally and fiscally sound plan that creatively upgrades current facilities while preserving, protecting and appropriately stewarding the remaining open spaces of Knowland Park, then they will find much more support.  Until that new version of a plan comes to the public, we must say no to the current plans on the table and vote No on A-1.

  • stilettoace

    Aw, geez, Nik.  There are so many lies in this piece I don’t have near enough space to point ’em all out.
    Calling others a liar is going to catch your pants on fire before this is over.
    The measure clearly states that the zoo can use the funds for whatever it wants, within Alameda county.  We’ve all read it.  Your maintaining that “by law” it can’t is simply not true.
    I’m wondering who the voters are going to trust, that bunch of real estate developers,  lawyers, biz-dev guys and ‘wealth managers’ on the zoo’s board, you, a professional spin doctor, or their own eyes.

  • Alina

    doesn’t change the fact that the zoo DOES have money.  it’s just earmarked for expansion, not for animals.  too bad. please figure out a way to fix your priorities before taxing people.

  • Park User

    I notice very little in this response that actually addresses the original article. It’s a classic tactic of propaganda to twist the conversation this way. It’s also rude to level ad hominem attacks on the original author. The response is rife with half-truths, another classic propaganda ploy. Fortunately, we are able to discern the truth, and who is actually speaking it.

  • NoMoreZooMoney

    If the Zoo needs more money to pay for operations NOW, what will happen if it expands? Will it come back to us in the future asking for MORE operational support? Sorry, we all have to live within our budgets. Don’t buy a gas-guzzler if you can’t afford to fuel it.

  • Alina

    Yes, the tone of the article was quite nasty.  It made me turn away from their side even more.

  • While Save Knowland Park agrees agree with most of the comments, I wanted to correct one thing. The measure does provide that funds will be used first to pay the costs of the election, but that should not be taken to mean that the funds will be used to pay the costs of the CAMPAIGN. Rather, it refers to the county’s costs in putting the measure on the ballot and counting the votes, etc.

  • LauraBaker

    Nik Dehejia’s hitpiece on Delia Taylor and the California Native Plant Society only further damages the East Bay Zoological Society’s credibility and the man himself.  This may seem like a good short-term strategy since often voters have difficulty discerning who’s telling the truth.  But in this case, voters have the actual language of the measure to fact -check and can readily see through the posturing, bluffing, and accusations.  The real problem comes later, after the election, win or lose, when the EBZS must count on the public believing what it says.  Then the cost of running a nasty campaign becomes clear.  If the Oakland Tribune, the zoo’s own hometown newspaper, cannot support Measure A1, it’s because the measure is too flawed to fly.  It’s time for the Zoo  management to take stock of decisions it has made that have put it on an unpopular and untrustworthy path.  Proposing an environmentally destructive and hugely expensive expansion onto high quality habitat and public park space was bad enough.  Attempting to fool the public with a deceptive ballot measure brought to the ballot in a stealth campaign was also a mistake.  And now leveling personal attacks that simply do not hold water as a way to try to win this campaign only reveals how wrong-headed zoo management has become.  After the election, zoo execs will have to wonder was all this worth it.  Let’s hope there are some cooler, wiser heads somewhere on the EBZS’s Board that can set a new direction.  If there aren’t, the zoo is liable to be in for a rough ride as it faces a disbelieving public.

  • Zoo Supporter

    Do you want the zoo to raise entrance fees so the zoo won’t be affordable for average families?  Cause that’s what will happen.  Look how much other museums and zoos cost the average visitor, the zoo provides an economical and educational day for families in the east bay.

  • juniper666

    Do we want the zoo to raise entrance fees so that those who actually use the zoo are the ones paying for it? Instead of people in Livermore who never go? Yes. Why is that unreasonable? 

    The zoo is far from economic, now. It cost my family of 4 $200 to spend a day there, AFTER waiting an hour to get in. The zoo had a surplus of $6 Million dollars last year and already gets tax payer money. Parrot makes over $200K a year.  If they still have to raise fees after that, they are mismanaging funds. That is not something the tax payers should have to shoulder. 

    There is absolutely nothing in this ballot measure which claims the tax will keep entrance fees at the current price. There is nothing to stop the zoo from raising prices tomorrow if it thinks the public will pay, even if A1 passed. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, in this ballot measure that protects the tax payer. No open financials, no guarantees, just broad, sweeping language. That is unacceptable.

  • Cute_fuzzy_NIMBYs

    I am voting “Yes” on Measure A1.  May the Oakland Zoo and its volunteers and docents continue to do what they to best for years to come —  to inspire compassion for and conservation of all living things, impart knowledge, serve as mentors, and create opportunities for people to be active learners.

  • zoo supporter

     Could you tell me how it costs your family of 4 $200 to spend a day there? 

  • zoo supporter

     By the way, the zoo reaches out to Livermore and other school districts with their zoo mobile and field trips.  Who do you think pays for the school buses when a school can’t afford it?

  • The Sharkey

    I don’t think misleading voters and destroying some of the last natural landscape in the Bay Area in order to build a restaurant and a gift shop does any of those things.

  • The Sharkey

    If the zoo wants more money from local residents, they should do something similar to what the San Francisco arboretum does, where locals get in free (or for a reduced price) and people from other areas pay full price.

    Doesn’t have to be much. But if they had campaigned for this by saying they would offer something like a 10% discount to residents to thank them for the additional funding, it would have made people feel a lot better about voting to raise their taxes.

  • guest

     I got a postcard claiming that Loni Hancock endorses A1, which made me so disgusted I’m going to vote for whatever 3rd party candidate is running against her. (Not a Republican, of course.)  I know the machine that she and her husband run is funded by the construction industry, but this is going too far.

  • anonymous

     This is the first time I’ve ever agreed with him.

  • Cute_fuzzy_NIMBYs

    I voted “Yes” on A1.

    I’m not a huge zoo patron myself, we haven’t really been since my daughter was much younger. I don’t like seeing hippos poop – not pretty.I love open space and feel that the opposition is misinformed and playing politics, portraying the Measure and expenditure plan as something it is simply not.Authentic conservation in an urban area requires human intervention and sustainable management. The Oaklands Zoo’s conservation initiatives serve our community and the greater good at all scales.Yes, Virginia, conservation can include gondolas and interpretive centers for public education programs (though not funded by measure A1).Lions and other rescued wild animals that have lived in captivity cannot simply be neglected or “set free,” as many opponents have falsely claimed. It is not these beasts’ fault that they are adorable and look like pets to humans. It’s also not their fault that they eat people on occasion.The Oakland Zoological Society and East Bay Regional Parks and City of Oakland have had a partnership which has included annual civic subsidies for over 50 years.These civic subsidies were severely cut in January 2012.Don’t be an ***, Measure A1 will add $12 per year per household to insure that a thriving community amenity will remain strong and relavent for generations to come.