Our turnout for the Oakland Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission (PRAC) hearing Wednesday night (Oct 22) on whether to recommend that the City Council approve letting the Zoo take even more of Knowland Park was GREAT—well over 50 Park defenders showed up…and wow, were they powerful, articulate, and persuasive! The sea of blue Save Knowland Park t-shirts and buttons was every bit a match for the busload of employees and others the Zoo brought in (see photos here of the assembled crowd and of the zoo’s bus leaving afterwards). Almost all the speakers FOR the recommendation were zoo employees, with a few volunteers, though the great majority of speakers were fighting to save the Park.
Park proponents were a wide range of credible speakers who addressed the pertinent points: wildlife and plant resources of the park, its conservation and educational values, the political nature of the decision being made, the history of the issue, what our recent poll showed the community wants…and emphasized our key message: the easement is not a solution – it’s a problem created by the zoo’s insistence that it will not move the project to a more appropriate site. Over and over, we emphasized that a win-win solution was possible—but that can only happen if this further taking of the Park is not approved. Our partners from the California Native Plant Society, California Native Grasslands Association, Defense of Place, Sierra Club and other organizations showed up in force and spoke out. The Center for Biological Diversity sent a letter to read. It was very bizarre to hear the zoo management—and city staff, who unfortunately seemed to be serving as a zoo mouthpiece—keep claiming this was all about conservation, in the face of this powerful public testimony.
And we managed to persuade two courageous commissioners to vote NO. Since 5 commissioners still voted yes, one might have thought that meant we lost. BUT…in a nail-biter finish, the commission staff informed the group that since the full commission is 11 members and only 7 were present, they would have needed 6 votes (a majority of the full commission) to approve the recommendation.
So the upshot is that the motion to recommend to the City Council that they approve the easement failed, and that decision will go forth to the Council. So it’s a small victory, but an important one. NOW the real work lies ahead—persuading City Councilmembers that with strong public support for protecting the Park, they too can make a stand and say enough is enough—no more taking of public land. We need your help now more than ever before.
How Can You Help?
Here’s what we need from everyone who cares about the Park, in THIS MONTH AHEAD:
A little time: Even if you’ve already written, please send an email to your City Council representative, letting them know that you’re pleased that the Parks Advisory Commission declined to support a recommendation to approve the easement that would take more Knowland Park land. They need to hear—loud, clear, sustained—that the public does not support the zoo building its project on the ridgetop. Tell them you want a better plan, and that this is a chance for City Councilmembers to press the zoo to do what the wildlife agencies told them they should do in the first place if they want to protect habitat: move the project, instead of taking more already-protected parkland to be “protected” in a conservation easement—that’s what we call “double-dipping.” Ask your Councilmember for a response. Councilmember email addresses are here.
A little more time: We will be working to do community outreach to get people to sign postcards at Farmer’s Markets and other venues on Saturdays and Sundays over the next month. If you can volunteer just a couple of hours, please contact our volunteer coordinator, Elise, at email@example.com, who will pair you with a more experienced volunteer. It’s a HUGE help to our cause and you will find that when people hear about what’s going on, it’s easy to engage supporters.
Help us network: Do you belong to a church, sorority, team, book club or other group that might like to learn more about the Park? We would be happy to send someone to give a short talk to your organization. If you would like to invite us to come, email Elise at firstname.lastname@example.org and put “talk” in the subject line.
SAVE DATES!!! We have still not been able to get anyone from the City to reveal the plans for when this issue will be heard and voted on by the City Council, despite multiple requests. But City Council meetings are on Tuesday nights. SO PLEASE RESERVE THE NEXT SEVERAL TUESDAYS FROM 5:30 pm on and we will let you know as soon as we do. We want to turn out a crowd at least twice as big for this one!
We know it’s hard to attend on a work night; everybody is juggling too much—but this will be the final push, on which the fate of our beloved Knowland Park truly hinges. Don’t let the many excuses we all have for not being there stop you from coming out this time, even if you’ve never turned out before. You don’t have to speak—you can cede time to others, which allows our leaders to make their most important points without rushing. But of course, you are welcome to speak on your own if you wish, and we’re happy to suggest talking points. As the saying goes, “the world is run by those who show up.” We don’t have the vast sums of money, or the political and lobbying clout of the zoo—so we have to show our power by turning out in force. Commit now to being there to stand together, even if it means several hours spent at City Hall!
A little more donation: We have a plan to win this campaign, and we have partners fully prepared to help us do it, but we have to hold up our end, and that means keeping up with our fundraising so we can do what it takes. PLEASE send checks in any amount made out to “CNPS” (California Native Plant Society, our fiscal sponsor) to our Treasurer, Lee Ann Smith, 111 Shadow Mountain, Oakland, CA 94605. OR use the green DONATE button on our website to do it with a credit card.
Stand with Us!
We’ve learned a lot from more than a decade of getting knocked down over and over…and always, always, getting back up to fight again. We’re not as naïve as we once were about how the game is played, and many of our volunteers have truly found their voices in speaking for the Park.
THANK YOU for everything you are continuing to do to help with this effort. As the speaker from the Sierra Club pointed out at the Parks Commission meeting, the legendary environmentalist David Brower started off with people telling him the dams planned for the Grand Canyon and Dinosaur National Park were “approved—a done deal.” (Have we heard that before?) But the power of people stopped the dams from being built—and the power of the people can stop this project on its currently planned site. But only if you show up.
Thanks always for protecting our Park,
Ruth, Tom, and the Friends of Knowland Park Leadership Team