No Matter How Much Lipstick…

The view to the west of the ridgetop area, as it is now.

It’s been an incredibly busy week! Coalition partners have been meeting with numerous organizations and key individuals as we develop our campaign against the zoo parcel tax measure that is going on the ballot for November. We’ve had some amazing victories that we can’t share yet, because we’re not quite convinced that all the zoo executive board members who signed up on our supporters list are really supporters (!)(see –but we can tell you that when people are given full information about what the Knowland Park expansion would really do to native wildlife and plant habitat, and about how the zoo got this on the ballot at the last possible moment, allowing no time for the usual process groups use to examine the language and determine their positions on ballot measures, they are quick to decide they can’t support it.

We’ve also learned that the zoo’s CEO, Dr. Joel Parrott, is now sending letters to selected environmental groups saying “none of the funds” from the parcel tax measure will be used for the expansion—so clearly the zoo is hearing that the expansion is a problem in terms of public opinion about the measure. But the problem with that tactic is that no matter what the zoo CEO says now, such outside letters and reassurances are not legally binding in any way whatsoever—as we have learned from past experience with the zoo. (Even if they were written into the measure, the tax funds would simply free up other money for the expansion anyway.)  Let us count the ways through which we have learned not to trust such reassurances:

We remember too well the infamous Memorandum of Understanding that Dr. Parrott executed with community members worried about the expansion more than a decade ago (see The community really trusted then that they had an agreement. But zoo executives decided to change their minds and do something else. That MOU turned out not to be worth the paper it was written on—just like many of the other promises we have heard over the years (for a more recent example, see And it’s not just environmental groups that have had this experience with the zoo’s executives saying one thing and then doing another. Remember a few years back when the Oakland city council became upset upon learning that, after the zoo had promised a certain number of “free” days just for Oakland’s  residents, the zoo had held just one free day and then (without consulting the Council) decided not to host any more?

The zoo has some very honest, dedicated and skilled people working there (some of whom have told us they privately agree with us), and some great programs. Unfortunately, zoo management seems to have lost all connection with the zoo’s core conservation mission in its determination to build this bloated, budget-busting theme park expansion.

The contradictions are just becoming too glaring to sustain.

No matter how much lipstick they apply, the fact is that the “California Trails” theme park development, as planned, would pave over dwindling wildlife habitat and rare plants. No matter how much the zoo CEO tries to say it’s all about conservation education, the first lesson 21st century kids ought to learn about biodiversity is that the greatest threat to it is loss of habitat—and it’s darned hard to demonstrate that lesson by building a 34,000 square foot 3 story restaurant, gift shop, offices and visitor center on top of occupied native mountain lion habitat. (see

Thanks to all who once again came through with donations to help us get going on fighting this ballot measure—and apologies if our thank you note is delayed; it’s challenging to keep up! If you missed donating but want to do so, use the Pay Pal button on our website or send a check made out to CNPS with Knowland Park in the subject line to our Treasurer, Lee Ann Smith, 111 Shadow Mountain, Oakland, CA 94605.

Even if, like many folks in our county, you generally support taxes for good programs, this is a really bad measure. We will be posting a detailed analysis of why this is bad policy in the next few weeks, after the measure’s letter (e.g. Measure A or Measure B, etc.) has been assigned by the registrar of voters and we have the final text—but meanwhile, if you have an opportunity to spread the word, you can use the one page flyer (Click Here For Link to Flyer)  to hand out to neighbors, friends, leave at coffee shops, post on bulletin boards, etc. While the zoo may believe that its giant PR machine will assure a win, several political analysts who have independently contacted us told us that the zoo will have an uphill fight on the crowded ballot. So every vote counts, and each one of us can do something to help defeat this measure!

If you can volunteer a little time, please email us at ! We are getting our volunteer rosters together now and the more, the merrier!

Thanks for your support over all the years we have worked to get the word out about Knowland Park and the native plants and wild creatures who thrive there right now, living and hunting and raising their young in Knowland Park, never suspecting their homes could be facing bulldozers paid for by an organization that claims the conservation mantle!


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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