Wow. Have you noticed how quiet things have gotten since the Measure A1 campaign? We have, and wondered whether it indicated some dissension within the zoo board ranks about how to proceed. The “anonymous” $1 million gift we heard they received seemed awfully convenient since they had just spent exactly that amount on a losing campaign. A way to reassure nervous donors, maybe?
Well, a zoo member who decided to attend the first zoo board meeting after the defeat of Measure A1 was interested to hear how the board responded after the defeat of a ballot measure on which so much money was spent. She contacted us later and told us that she was shocked to hear one of the zoo’s own board members calling out the untruth that characterized the whole campaign. According to this observer, the board member said (discussing zoo management’s denials that the money from the measure would fund the expansion):
“I don’t see why we didn’t acknowledge that this is about expansion. Of course it is. We shouldn’t have lied.”
Zoo executives in the meeting quickly responded, denying that “Measure A1 money is not for the expansion” was really a lie. Rather, they said, the Measure A1 money would have simply freed up other funds to be used for the expansion. But this is a distinction without a difference, as we pointed out many times. And, according to the observer, at least some of the other board members didn’t appear to be buying it.
The Measure A1 opposition (all of us on the Save Knowland Park/No on A1 side) was also characterized by zoo staff and some board members at the meeting as “nasty” and “mean.” According to the zoo member’s report, zoo staff claimed that:
“Neighbors up there are really nasty. They kick people out. They don’t want anybody up there.”
This is a bit much, considering that we have been the ones for years begging the city to list the Park on its parks website (see http://www.saveknowland.org/blog/page/7/ and http://www.saveknowland.org/2012/05/04/extra-extra-stop-the-presses-after-over-four-years-of-pressure-city-lists-knowland-park-on-its-parks-website/), leading tours of the Park, creating an entire website with information and maps of the Park, writing op-eds and letters about it, speaking on radio and television about the Park, etc.
But when one zoo board member disagreed, saying that she thought that Measure A1’s opponents had made some valid points, her perspective was quickly discounted by zoo staff as related to her living near the Park.
We have started to wonder if maybe other zoo board members have their own reasons for so vociferously defending this expansion plan, a development-heavy project that would destroy such important natural resources and wildlife habitat in Knowland Park. For a “conservation organization,” the zoo board has an unusual number of business development types on it. After hearing more about this board meeting, one of our No on A1 volunteers did some research and reported:
“There are some very heavy hitters on this zoo board. Let’s start with Jim Wunderman, who is also the Chair of the Bay Area Council (BAC). This group advertises itself as presenting the business point of view in California. There are many different such groups, but the BAC is made up of the tops: The Chairman of the Executive Committee of the BAC is the California State President of Bank of America. Also on the BAC Executive Committee are presidents/CEO’s of top banks, the CEO of PG&E in this entire region, the CEO of Kaiser health plan, etc. In other words, the BAC is important enough that the top corporate officers of Northern California’s major corporations run it. And Wunderman sits at the top of the BAC.”
Also on the zoo board is B. Reid Settlemeier, who according to web information owns or co-owns several companies, including Bigge Crane and Rigging Company, Crane Certification Company and Bigge Development Company, all located in San Leandro, CA, and Shaughnessy Heavy Industries, located in Auburn, WA. Is it a coincidence that so much of the planned construction of the expansion development is to be managed with cranes? (See the “refined” zoo expansion plans: http://www.saveknowland.org/2013/02/04/zoo-expands-its-expansion-plans/) Or that, as the zoo member reported, he was the most hostile toward the No on A1 side, calling us “those people up the hill”?
Most of the individuals now serving on the boards of the zoo or its foundation have a primary focus in real estate development, investment, construction or marketing. It’s a group that would be expected to promote development. It’s hard to find any members on either board with true expertise in conservation, which seems really odd for a zoo that claims to support conservation. When you add in the destruction of rare native plant communities and wildlife habitat, it becomes clearer than ever that the California Trail Project isn’t about conservation, it’s about money—and we think it would be great for someone to trace where the project money has been going and who actually gets it.
The zoo member who later shared her impressions with us said that when the meeting was over, she was stunned when a zoo staffer actually chased her out into the parking lot to be sure she did not keep a copy of the financial documents distributed at the meeting. The zoo staffer said that the zoo board’s financial reports were not public information. Why not? What are they hiding? If this nonprofit group wants millions of dollars in public support to spend on an ill-advised expansion, shouldn’t they have to be transparent about their finances?
Much of the misinformation and outright falsehood that was used by the Zoo during the Measure A1 campaign was debunked in a blog post we published on this site. To see the full extent of this, you can read the article, Fact-checking the Claims of Oakland Zoo Executives and Spokespersons. It contains links to audio and video recordings of claims and evidence refuting them.