Op-Ed: Fact checking the PR spin — Measure A1

Nik Dehejia’s editorial (Nov. 1) personally attacks Delia Taylor of the California Native Plant Society, calling her a liar. Mr. Dehejia uses classic PR spin techniques to divert attention, but fails to rebut a single point in Ms. Taylor’s thoughtful piece (also Nov. 1).

The fact is that, contrary to Mr. Dehejia’s assertions, the measure’s language indeed allows funds to be used for the zoo’s controversial expansion project. Ms. Taylor’s article cited the relevant sections. It is the “Definitions” section that is crucial;  it clearly defines “construction,” “expansion,” and “capital facilities” as within the scope of projects for which funds may be expended. In addition, the Expenditure Plan indicates that the zoo may delete, add, “expand”, supplement, or substitute other projects. Every word in a measure such as this is chosen deliberately, and only the wording of the measure itself—not Mr. Dehejia’s spin—is legally binding. There is no language whatsoever prohibiting use of the funds to pay for the expansion project or for other future expansions.

Mr. Dehejia also alludes to PETA’s 2010 acknowledgment of improved conditions for captive elephants as though this constituted an endorsement of the zoo, Measure A1, or the expansion. In fact, PETA told us they were contacting their lawyers about the zoo’s unauthorized use of their name on pro-A1 campaign literature. PETA has not endorsed Measure A1, and never endorses zoos.

Mr. Dehejia writes: “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.” But this is false and misleading. The measure actually states, in confusing legalese (Section 2.30.070) that the voters can only amend the measure to extend or increase the tax, and it expressly says that “The Board of Supervisors may enact other amendments, including but not limited to amendments necessary to assist the Oakland Zoo in obtaining long-term financing for services and projects.”

The Oakland Tribune, recommending a NO vote on Measure A1, reported—as Ms. Taylor accurately described—that the zoo was unable to produce long range financial projections justifying this tax. This is consistent with our experience challenging the expansion project: we have never been provided with financial documents that show where the funds for the expansion are coming from, and documents from a public records act request indicate that less than one month after this misguided expansion project was approved by the Oakland City Council, the zoo was out polling for this parcel tax.

We recently posted a fact-checking document on our website (www.saveknowland.org ) where you can evaluate for yourself who is telling the truth to voters—the volunteers from many environmental and community groups who care about good government and public parkland, or well-paid PR spinners like Mr. Dehejia and other zoo staff currently engaging in nasty personal attacks on the opposition.

We do agree with Mr. Dehejia on one thing: voters should not just take his word for how to vote. After trying to work with zoo executives on a better plan for many years, we have come to realize that they will say anything to get what they want. But voters don’t have to give it to them. Vote no on Measure A1.

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Ruth Malone is Co-Chair of Friends of Knowland Park, one of five environmental groups signing the ballot argument against Measure A1. She is a former member of the Oakland Public Ethics Commission and a grassroots activist who has lived in Oakland for almost 30 years.