Fact-checking the Claims of Oakland Zoo Executives and Spokespersons

What’s the Truth about Measure A1?

There has been considerable discussion about what was said, by whom, where and when, and what it all might mean. The following shows some of what’s been disputed.

We provide links to documents from many sources, including links to audio recorded at (1) the Oct. 11 League of Women Voters Election Forum, held at Piedmont City Hall, and (2) KQED’s Oct. 22 edition of Forum, hosted by Michael Krasny.

At both of these sites, search functions must be used to find the relevant files; for the first one, use “League of Women Voters”, and for the second, use “Measure A1”.

Where possible, we provide the timing of the clips provided, so the audio can be heard in its original context. The former site also provides streaming video.

For those interested in reading them, here is the full and official text of Measure A1. And here is an analysis of Measure A1 produced by No on A1 to Save Knowland Park, PAC #1351843. Sponsored by East Bay Chapter, California Native Plant Society.

The Claims and the Facts

1. CLAIM: Measure A1 “guarantees” that “every dime” of the money will be used for animal care and children’s programs. (Click here to see this statement in a “Yes on A1” mailer.)

FACT: The ballot measure text says “Use of Oakland Zoo Special Tax Revenue: Moneys in the Oakland Zoo Fund shall be used exclusively first, to pay for the costs of the election necessary to enact this Chapter, then: to pay for the services and projects of the Oakland Zoo…to pay for all costs of administering this Chapter by the Zoo operator; and to reimburse the County as provided for in subdivision C of this Chapter. If this Chapter or the use of special tax funds is legally challenged, special tax funds may be used to reimburse the County and the Zoo operator for their costs of legal defense, including attorneys’ fees and other expenses.” Thus, it doesn’t appear that “every dime” will be for animal care and children’s programs.

2. CLAIM: “Measure A1 has absolutely nothing to do with the expansion.” (Click here to hear the Zoo’s PR chief say this.) (Minute 4:48 of Forum broadcast) Measure A1 funds can only be spent on animal care and education.

FACT: Language from Measure A1: “Services and Projects” mean the operations of the Oakland Zoo, including but not limited to acquisition of, caring for, and publicly displaying animals, deployment of appropriate personnel, and maintaining, operating, and improving existing facilities; providing and supporting educational and conservation programs involving, without limitation, animals, native habitats, and nature, as well as other Zoo-related programs; community outreach; constructingexpanding, remodeling, renovating, furnishing, equipping, or financing of facilities; keeping visitor fees affordable, and maintaining or improving visitor services. Financing the construction of new or renovation of existing Oakland Zoo capital facilities is within the definition of services and projects.

FACT: From the Measure: “Projects are not listed in priority order and may be enhanced, supplemented, or expanded…”

“The Zoo may delete a project or service among the examples listed in this Expenditure Plan, may substitute unidentified but similar projects and services for those listed…as long as…consistent with the general categories of projects listed in this expenditure plan.”

“Because the tax authorized by Measure A1 will be in effect after projects and services listed…are completed or become less responsive to community need, the Zoo may undertake new projects and services consistent with the general purposes listed in this Expenditure Plan.”

3. CLAIM: Zoo is “not spending $1 million on [the Measure A1] campaign”. (Click here to hear The Zoo’s PR chief say this, and then hear Michael Krasny describe how the Zoo’s CEO contradicts this.) (Minute 4:40 in the Forum broadcast)

FACT: Oakland Zoo CEO Joel Parrott said at public, videotaped meeting that Zoo was spending $1 million on campaign. (Click here to hear the Zoo’s CEO make this statement.) (Minute 23:35 in the LWV recording) (Click here to hear the Zoo’s PR chief respond when pressed on this matter.) (Minute 16:35 of the Forum broadcast)

FACT: According to Fair Political Practices Commission documents filed by the Zoo, the campaign has already spent over $800,000. (Click here to read about this in the East Bay Express.)

4. CLAIM: Only “a few excited, eager volunteers who did put up some signs at the zoo” (Click here to hear the Zoo’s PR chief say this.) (Minute 10:44 of Forum broadcast) posted Yes on A1 campaign signs on zoo grounds, which is illegal because it is city property. “Short of that, there has [sic] been absolutely no [campaign law] violations at all”. (Click here to hear the Zoos PR chief say this.) (Minute 11:00 of Forum Broadcast)

FACT: The links below (which include posts on the Zoo’s own website) show that these pro-A1 campaign signs, including a large banner on the hillside overlooking Hwy 580 and signs within animal enclosures, represent the work of much more than a few over-exuberant volunteers – these posters were part of the Zoo’s calculated campaign effort and could not have been displayed without the knowledge and approval of those overseeing the Zoo’s Measure A1 campaign program.

If zoo executives can’t even be truthful about their use of campaign signs, how can they be expected to be honest with over $125 million of Alameda County tax dollars?

Mr. Dehejia did not respond directly to the fact that the Zoo’s A1 campaign headquarters are illegally located on City property.

Pictures of illegally posted A1 signs on City property from saveknowland.org:

Zoo blog, showing signs illegally posted on City property:
Also here:

CSU East Bay’s student paper, The Pioneer, with photo of a A1 sign placed in a zoo exhibit:
The caption says, “Signs for ‘Yes on Measure A1’ are strategically placed throughout exhibits in the Oakland Zoo.”

5. CLAIM: Measure A1 includes strict oversight. (Click here to hear the Zoo CEO say this.) (Minute 12:50 of the LWV recording)

FACT: Oversight committee is appointed annually, thus any member may be removed at the end of their term. [Sec. 2.30.050 Subsec E]

FACT: Zoo employees are not expressly precluded from serving on the Oversight Committee; only City of Oakland employees are expressly precluded from so serving, and Zoo employees  are not City employees.

FACT: There is no provision for any elected official to oversee these tax expenditures.

6. CLAIM: “There is nothing stealth about this campaign”. (Click here to hear the Zoo’s PR chief say this.) (Minute 4:38 of Forum broadcast)

FACT: The very placement of this measure on the ballot was done in the most secretive possible way, clearly intended to try to prevent there being ANY argument against the measure in the voter handbook. This isn’t how good government is supposed to work.

1. The measure was first discussed at a special retreat on May 8. The Agenda (see url below) includes NO MENTION OF THE OAKLAND ZOO OR ANY PARCEL TAX MEASURE. See Agenda from the Alameda County website:


2. The Minutes of that meeting (url below) include NO MENTION OF THE OAKLAND ZOO OR ANY PARCEL TAX MEASURE. See Minutes from the Alameda County website:


3. The only way the public could have learned about this measure at that time was to have happened to have attended the meeting (without any notice or indication that this matter would be discussed) or to read the brief story in the San Jose Mercury News (a non-Alameda County paper) which has since mysteriously vanished altogether from the Mercury News archives, and for some reason keeps disappearing from other caches, but we found it here:


4. We were only alerted to the retreat discussion by the news article, which someone sent to us. Following this, repeated attempts to obtain copies of the materials discussed at the retreat through the County Supervisors’ Office were met with claims that no one knew anything about a Zoo parcel tax measure (perhaps not surprising as neither the Agenda nor the Minutes mention it anywhere). Full materials from that meeting are still not available and the Minutes are in only the most summary form, merely stating that updates were provided. There are no attachments available on the website. There is no audio or video available.

5. The next and only other appearance of this matter was at a July 24 meeting, the last item on the last meeting before the Supervisors’ recess, where the Measure was approved for the ballot. However, the minutes of this meeting were still not posted until long after the deadline for filing an argument in opposition had passed, so we could not determine whether the Agenda version was indeed the approved version until the measure was submitted to the Registrar of Voters.

The measure was submitted to the Registrar of Voters in the late afternoon of the last day for submission, August 10. Even then, our understanding is that changes can be made in the measure for up to five days.

 7. CLAIM: The Zoo receives $1.2 million in public money – $600,000 from Oakland and $600,000 from East Bay Regional Parks. (Click here to here the Zoo CEO say this.) (Minute 26.45 of the LWV recording)


  1. $ $606,902.12  taken from Alameda County property taxes went to the Oakland zoo as an apportionment for fiscal year 2011/12.  Each year the zoo gets an apportionment straight off the top which is then passed through Oakland.
    (Source: Alameda County Auditor’s report)
  2. $100,000 goes to the Zoo every year from the East Bay Regional Park District’s Measure CC.
    (Source: East Bay Regional Parks District)
  3. The Zoo also is reserved a part of Oakland’s hotel tax every year.
    (Source: Mayor’s Budget Proposal for 2012)
  4. $9 million is going to the Zoo under Oakland’s Measure G (residents will pay about $5 million more for the borrowing costs).
    (Source: Source: City of Oakland Finance Agency and City of Oakland Measure G, Series 2006-Bear, Stearns and Co, Inc.)
  5. $4 million has been set aside for the Zoo from EBRPD’s Measure WW.
    (Source: East Bay Regional Parks District)
  6. $7 million has been granted to the Zoo from a California State Parks and Recreation bond.
    (Source: Office of Grants and Local Assistance of the California Department of Parks)
  7. $4 million has already gone to the Zoo from the Park District’s Measure AA.
    (Source: East Bay Regional Parks District)
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