Zoo Expands Its Expansion Plans

The Zoo's Expanded Plan graphic; click to see a larger, more detailed version.

The US Fish and Wildlife service, which is charged with enforcing wildlife protections and must issue a formal Biological Opinion before the zoo can begin construction, has reviewed the information sent by the zoo to the US Army Corps of Engineers (part of the overall regulatory process). The USFWS concluded that what had been submitted was insufficient and incomplete, and answers to some 30 questions were requested. (See the letter from the USFWS at

Through a Freedom of Information Act request, we secured the zoo management’s response—and have learned that they have “refined” the proposal yet again. (See that response document, with its interesting graphics, at

We were shocked to see full descriptions of all the buildings and structures—over 50 that are planned for the site. (See a list of the structures at

Some of the animal night houses are the size of a modest house in square footage and they include plumbing, lights, heat, etc. There’s a tent cabin village designed to accommodate over 100 people.  Remember the 34,000 square foot 3 story visitor center? The zoo has now split that into two large buildings, moving one of them even further to the east so that it will be even more visible from the remaining parkland. It’s clear they plan to construct a subdivision on the site—a captive animal city.

The latest plan is even more construction-intensive than we ever imagined, or than their soft-focus simulations to the city council ever showed. Check it out and see what you think. This looks like a whole lot more than we ever heard about before: this thing just keeps on growing like a tumor.

And zoo executives still insist that they WILL build it, despite the fact that—even with a million-dollar campaign and an entire paid zoo staff working on it–they could not pass their tax measure. They insist on it, no matter what the public thinks, and despite the fact that the site includes two rare plant communities:  native bunchgrass prairie and ancient, old-growth maritime chaparral that provides important habitat for wildlife, including at least one endangered species. (Recent mapping of remnant native plant communities for the Oakland Museum reveals that maritime chaparral is one of the rarest plant communities left in the East Bay.) They insist on this misguided plan despite the fact that the site is occupied wildlife habitat. Despite the fact that the site is one of the most biodiverse sites left in the East Bay hills. (Check out the video of Laura Baker leading a tour in the park, contributed by Richard Bangert, at

They still insist they must have THIS site and no other for their expansion, and refuse to consider better alternatives. And they insist on it despite KNOWING they will destroy wildlife and rare plant habitat to do it. That isn’t consistent with conservation by any stretch of the imagination!

But this is public property, and they don’t yet have either the money (thanks to your hard work on Measure A1) or the regulatory agency approvals, and even though our city representatives seem willing to give it away to the zoo’s wealthy patrons and politically connected development interests, we are not willing to give it up without fighting to the end. We need your help NOW as we get ready to launch the next phases of our campaign. There are reasons to think this is a very critical time for our efforts!

To contribute, please send a check made out to CNPS to our Friends of Knowland Park Treasurer, Lee Ann Smith, 111 Shadow Mountain, Oakland, CA 94605. Be sure to mark your check as FOKP.

Thanks so much for all your support and your patience as we regroup and organize for the next round. As the public learned about Knowland Park during the campaign, people were shocked to realize that Oakland was actually planning to destroy important wildlife habitat and parkland to construct a development-intensive zoo expansion. Once they see the park for themselves, and learn how the city kept it hidden from its own citizens for years, they get active. We could never have won this campaign without the help of so many of you who took initiative in your own communities to get the word out.

Now it’s time to rev up for the next phase. While zoo executives, displaying the hubris that has characterized all our experiences with them to date, insist they WILL break ground in spring, the fact is that our state and federal regulatory agencies haven’t yet approved the project—and, if their letters are any indication, they are not going to rubber stamp it as our city council did. If they stand firm to protect our natural resources, the obstacles to bulldozing this property will be many.

We need your help to call more attention to the folly of this plan, which is so utterly out of touch with current ideas about conservation. In over six years of work to save Knowland, you have never let us down yet—so remember the baby wood rats snug in their nests, the bobcats hiding deep in the chaparral, the foxes marking their territory, the owl in the tree slated for the bulldozer. PLEASE contribute what you can to our legal fund, call your Oakland Councilperson, write to your favorite media organs, and spread the news to all your neighbors. Let’s all keep working together to protect and preserve precious Knowland Park!

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