Today (Thursday, April 19) the judge heard arguments in our legal case. Our attorneys argued forcefully that the massive changes to the Zoo’s plans meant that it should have been considered as a new project, rather than piggybacking on a lesser level environmental document for the old project, which lacked any information whatsoever about key project impacts and which misrepresented others. The City and Zoo attorneys, in turn, argued that we were trying to apply the wrong legal standard, that the previous Memorandum of Understanding with the community had no legal significance (see ) and should be ignored, and that the criteria for activating a key provision in the California Environmental Quality Act had not been met–namely, that there were NOT new circumstances or new impacts from the changed project. It’s hard to imagine how they can make such an argument with a straight face, but there it is.

The judge did not give an indication of how he will rule, but it is a complicated case and he has indicated a real willingness to delve into the details. Now we just have to wait and hope he really takes the time to understand what a ruling against us would mean: that any developer in league with a development-friendly city could propose a low-impact project, get an initial approval with a low level impact report, then massively ramp it up and still claim (with the collusion of the city) that there was “no environmental impact”.

Anyone who has visited Knowland Park and truly explored its wonderful natural places knows it is a lie to claim that this development will have “no environmental impact.” There are rare plants, threatened animal species, and many creatures who live and raise their young in the Park. There will be major impacts on all of them, as well as on all of us who use the Park. Yet “no impact” is exactly what the city claimed, over and over and over. Unfortunately, this experience has made us realize that the deck is terribly stacked against ordinary citizens who want to defend our environmental treasures from development. And without legal action, there is simply little recourse except massive public pressure. Keep your fingers crossed! The judge must rule within 90 days but we are expecting a ruling before that.

As you can imagine, the additional briefs and hearings the judge required have run up another big legal bill– this is the reality of trying to protect our Park. Can you help us with a contribution to get us past this last legal push? It is sometimes just astonishing to me that we have managed to keep going all these years against such daunting odds and well-moneyed opposition. It is ONLY because of the many, many contributions from ordinary people who care about the Park that we have been able to do it.

We don’t have the Big Bucks of the Zoo’s Board Executives, one of whom once bragged to me about how he gave away more money than he made last year. Clearly he wanted me to know that he is so wealthy he does not really have to work. He lives down the peninsula in a wealthy area, so I am sure he is well off. Well, most of us can’t do that, because we still have to work to put food on the table, or we may be on a limited income and we don’t make enough to give it all away and brag about it. It’s great to give away money and I can’t fault him for that. It’s more the sense of power: since I am rich I can do things you can’t do.

But almost every one of us can give SOMETHING–and together, it all adds up and we start to count for something bigger than any one of us. Numbers really do matter, not just wealth. So please, we are asking you to come through again with whatever you can spare and just a little more. Use Pay Pal on our website (, or send a check made out to CNPS (California Native Plant Society) to Lee Ann Smith, FoKP Treasurer, 111 Shadow Mountain, Oakland, CA 94605. Contributions are tax-deductible.

The animals and plants of Knowland Park don’t have checking accounts, can’t appear at court hearings, and truly have no one but us to speak up for them. The animals are rearing their babies now, never dreaming that the Zoo’s bulldozers might be coming. Please help us continue to represent them by sending something today!

Ruth Malone is a resident of Oakland since 1983, a founding member and co-chair of Friends of Knowland Park and a longtime Oakland neighborhood activist. Since 2007, she has been working to educate and organize environmentalists, park users, and community members to protect the park. In her day job, she is a professor of nursing and health policy at University of California, San Francisco, where she helps students study the links between health and political, social and natural environments, and conducts research on the tobacco industry and its efforts to thwart public health efforts worldwide.

Ruth Malone’s Reflections Blog offers a combination of reflective essays and updates from the Protect Knowland Park Campaign, linking the fight to protect Knowland Park to broader environmental and ethical issues.

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  1. Gwen77f April 22, 2012 at 8:41 pm #

    Thanks for all you’re doing.  If you add up all the volunteer hours all of you have put in, multiply by your usual hourly rates and by the years you’ve been battling the Zoo, and throw in the cash collected, I’ll bet Friends of Knowland Park rivals the Gates Foundation in charitable giving! Take that, arrogant Zoo execs!

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