Yesterday Judge Evelio Grillo issued his final ruling in our lawsuit, stating that the Zoo’s current expansion plan into Knowland Park is merely a modification of the 1998 Amended Master Plan project. Sometimes in the court of law it’s possible to find that up is down and black is white. Such is the case here. Our attorneys – Shute, Mihaly, & Weinberger – argued eloquently that the Zoo’s plan, which adds a veterinary hospital and an aerial gondola, quadruples the size of the Interpretive Center, and includes other major changes that were detailed in our briefs, results in a new project. In the end, the court disagreed, and the accompanying photos show who loses as a result of the court’s decision.
We knew from the start that the case was challenging to win because of the 1998 Memorandum of Understanding issue which we discussed in our “Bait and Switch” article. But essentially, this ruling suggests that any developer can propose a low-impact, modest project, then obtain a lower level environmental approval, avoiding a full Environmental Impact Report, and then – with the collusion of a pro-development city government – dramatically ramp up the project while NEVER completing a full EIR – even on public parkland. A full EIR would have required the consideration of alternatives which the Zoo avidly sought to avoid. This is a terrible interpretation of the California Environmental Quality Act. We are currently discussing an appeal with our attorneys.
The project is a long way from being built. The Zoo must first get permits from the California Department of Fish and Game and the US Fish and Wildlife Service since the project would sit smack in the middle of core habitat for the Alameda whipsnake, a species protected by both the federal and state Endangered Species Acts. It would also destroy maritime chaparral and native bunchgrass prairie, two plant communities deemed rare by the California Department of Fish and Game. As a result, CDFG has recommended moving the Interpretive Center away from the chaparral and suggests that the project footprint could be further reduced by locating other facilities with the current Zoo footprint.
In addition, while the Zoo will not publish the financing plan for this project, it appears they are talking with local politicians to tap local public funds to construct the proposed multi-million dollar gondola and other building and road construction in the highlands of Knowland Park.
We’ll take up the topic of the Zoo’s permit applications in our next blog post.
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.