It’s Your Zoo – You’re Paying (and Paying and Paying) for It

Money - the Big Problem with Oakland City Government and the Oakland Zoo

It comes as no surprise that the Oakland Zoo has announced that it will seek yet another source of public funding (up to $5 million a year), this time from Alameda County residents. The zoo has been soliciting support for the county-wide tax measure on its website page, “It’s Your Zoo.” The zoo already receives money from Alameda and Contra Costa residents through the East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) which taps residents for a portion of their parcel taxes through its special tax district (check your property tax bill and you’ll see it listed).

Each year the zoo receives between $500,000-$700,000 from EBRPD’s General Fund, a deal that was cut in the State legislature back in the 1980s without approval by the EBRPD’s Board of Directors. At the time, EBRPD did not have the political muscle to successfully fight off this naked grab of its own financial resources.

EBRPD has been successful even in these lean times at raising money from voters, and tapping into the EBRPD’s resources continues to be an alluring promise for the zoo. In 2008 the zoo presented a proposal to the LaFCO (Local Agency Formation Commission) to raise funds regionally that included an option of creating an “internal tax zone” under the umbrella of EBRPD’s special tax district. EBRPD rejected the idea.

But that same year EBRPD gave the zoo a huge boost through its capital bond measure (Measure WW) which netted the zoo $4 million off the top, a repeat of the $4 million that the zoo received in 1988, when a previous EBRPD capital measure was passed. The money to the zoo is in addition to other money allocated to Oakland parks through the local grants program established by the same bond measure.

It will be interesting to see whether EBRPD will be able to continue to attract funds for itself by using the issue of benefits to local parks now that the public has begun to understand that money will be spent in actually destroying a lovely city park if the zoo succeeds in its theme park expansion into Knowland Park.

Can the 2012 Oakland City Council lead, govern, and keep Oakland out of bankruptcy?

It’s hard to track down all of the various pots of public funding that the zoo caches, but the most difficult task of all is to pierce the financial veil of the City of Oakland’s own subsidies to the zoo. Nowhere is this more apparent than in our attempt to find out accurate information about how millions in City funding will be used for the zoo’s expansion project into Knowland Park. Oakland City Council members and Mayor Quan have blatantly refused to answer questions regarding zoo funding when asked in public budget hearings. Their oft-repeated response is “It’s a done deal.” Really.

Now it seems that the proposed ballot measure may be a way to open a new spigot of public funds to help pay for the $72 million expansion since, according to the Oakland Tribune (5/9/12), “the zoo could include other projects [to fund] as long as they are consistent with the general categories listed in the expenditure plan [of the tax measure].” Since the theme park expansion plan is billed as both a conservation and education exhibit, there appears to be nothing to stop the zoo from using those funds if the measure passed. So much for the notion of “a done deal.”

We have discussed various aspects of zoo funding in previous posts. (“Oakland debt will be raised with zoo’s new multi-million dollar aerial gondola” and “The public will be tapped to pay for zoo expansion“) Our city is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. We will continue to post information and questions about public funding to the zoo. As we do so, we encourage you, the public, to pose these and your own questions in writing to your elected officials with requests to receive responses in writing. Our questions this week are:

The press reports that the ballot measure includes a provision that specifies that the funds could be used in part to pay attorney fees to squash challenges to the measure itself. Why would it be in the public interest to approve something that could be used to help fight legitimate voter challenges to a zoo public subsidy?

Is this new County tax measure such a flawed idea that County Supervisors are already looking at using part of the added tax money to hire attorneys to defend it?

And, how does this provision to pay legal fees have anything to do with taking care of animals, the purpose of the measure as expressed by Joel Parrott, Executive Director of the zoo?

To contact individual Alameda County Supervisors, you may use snail mail (Name of Supervisor, 1221 Oak Street, Suite 536, Oakland, CA  94612) or you can go to the the website at  and go to that supervisor’s page and e-mail her/him your comment.

  • Scott Haggerty, District One
  • District Two is vacant
  • Wilma Chan, District 3
  • Nate Miley, District 4
  • Keith Carson, District 5

Jim Hanson grew up in the East Bay and originally heard about out the City’s development plans for Knowland Park from the East Bay Chapter of the Native Plant Society and the Sierra Club Yodeler. A landscape architect, Jim appreciates the subtle beauty of the native bunchgrass prairies and meadow lands of California. He has served on the Board of Directors of the California Native Grasslands Association for several years and was recently elected its President. He likes to take fellow Oaklanders and Bay Area visitors to the Knowland Park highlands to point with pride how a vibrant, busy city still keeps its natural wealth.



Laura Baker is an environmental activist and former Conservation Chair of the California Native Plant Society. Growing up in Missouri, she learned that the cure for most ills rests in spending time out in nature. She wishes for every child to have the experience of wholeness that nature provides. Laura holds an M.A. in Ecology and Systematic Biology.

Laura’s Knowlander blog is dedicated to building an online library of the natural history of Knowland Park so that the public may enjoy the park for the natural heritage treasure that it is. Knowing the land is a never ending process of inquiry open to all. We welcome your comments, contributions, and photos


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