David, Goliath, and Our Place to Make a Stand

The extraordinary view at Knowland Park.

We filed our Argument Against the zoo’s parcel tax measure (which has been given the title Measure A1 (!)) last week. Five organizations signed the argument: California Native Plant Society, Friends of Knowland Park, Alameda Creek Alliance, California Native Grasslands Association and Resource Renewal Institute (the parent group of our Coalition Partner, Defense of Place). If you are a member of any of these groups, please email or call them and thank them for their staunch support. The Sierra Club also authorized us to include the factual statement that they had opposed the Knowland Park expansion project—again, let them know you appreciate this.

For many groups, it takes real courage of conviction to go against the zoo’s political machine. Like many of us, they know that people working at the zoo do good work, and have some good programs. But zoo executives’ absolute refusal to make meaningful and substantive compromise to protect the important natural habitat of Knowland Park, and their blatantly deceptive claims, have begun to open a lot of eyes. For example, the zoo has been telling everyone the taxes from this measure won’t be used to fund the expansion development in Knowland Park, but the ordinance clearly states that they can be used for “construction” and “expansion.” When people actually read the measure and see how broadly it is written, they realize the zoo intends to drive a Mack Truck (and bulldozers) through those loopholes. One leader we spoke with, when we pointed out these and other loopholes, said he was “really disappointed” in the zoo. We are too.

We have been informed that our argument was selected to be included in the Voter’s Information book, so that is great news for us—and we have now been sent a copy of the zoo’s Argument in Favor, to which we are invited to submit a rebuttal. So the rebuttal is what we’ll be working on this week. Having never done it before, we have learned a lot about the process, which is fairly complicated for a newbie. If we were not very determined, well educated English speakers, we could see how it could be really challenging to do all this—much easier if you are well connected politically and can hire someone to do it! But we’ve been learning the ropes for almost 6 years now, and so many of you have been stepping forward to say you will help with our campaign that we are feeling stronger than ever!

A vote against Measure A1 is a vote to protect ancient Coast Live Oak heritage trees like this one which the zoo is planning to destroy to make room for its 35,000 square foot Interpretive Center.

It may be that the only way to get zoo executives to realize they are so profoundly out of step with the environmental community is to roundly defeat this measure at the polls. But as we noted last week, we’re definitely going to be in a David and Goliath fight. The zoo has powerful allies and money to hire political consultants—and given what we’ve learned from contacting other groups, the zoo has been hiring consultants, doing polling  and getting its messages in place for months, without letting the public know anything about this measure. The measure was approved by the county supervisors at their last possible meeting and filed with the registrar of voters at the last possible moment on the very last day it could be filed for this election. That tells you the zoo wanted to avoid any real scrutiny by the public before filing. It’s very disrespectful to groups that normally have more time to vet a measure’s language before the ballot arguments are due. But unfortunately it’s entirely consistent with the patterns we have come to recognize after so many years of trying to persuade and push the zoo to do the right thing. (see Our August 14th Blog Post )

Thanks to all who have volunteered to help on the campaign and we need more, so please email us at info@friendsofknowlandpark.org  if you can donate just a little time. We’re all busy, but if we all help we can accomplish so much. Some of you are already busy with research work we needed, and some have started to print and post flyers. We have just posted on the website A New Version Of Our Flyer that includes the Measure number, now that we know it. Please print out and post or leave these at all the places you see public notices. (No telephone poles or mailboxes, please!)

Blue eyed grass, one of the many native flowers that inhabit the rare native grasslands at Knowland Park. photo: Ken-ichi Ueda

Even if you never leave your house (except to visit beautiful Knowland Park!), there are things you can do to help. Are you on Facebook? On Twitter? If so, please forward our posts to your lists and re-tweet our tweets! If not, please sign up for one of these (we did recently for the first time and it’s actually pretty easy) to be our friend or follower! Just go to Twitter.com to sign up—it’s free and they don’t ask for much information. Our Twitter address is @KnowlandPark . This really helps our campaign reach more people—we can’t afford the fancy stuff of professional campaigns.

Also, are you a member of any organizations? If so, please forward our posts and let them know about our website. Each time one more person is reached, it helps!

Every environmental victory started out with just a few people who cared enough to get involved, who felt they had to make a stand for a place they cared about. They knew in some deep way that those places mattered. Knowland Park is our place and it matters—not just to we human beings, but to the wildlife who live there and will continue to live there, and to our children and grandchildren who can only experience its wonders if we protect it. Defeating Measure A1 is the next step in our campaign to save this place.


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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