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California Trail approved by city council

Graphic | Tam Duong Jr.

Graphic | Tam Duong Jr.

Graphic | Tam Duong Jr.

California Trail approved by city council

December 4, 2014

The Oakland City Council approved conservation measures on Nov. 18 allowing the Oakland Zoo to go forward with their California Trail project.

According to the California Trail website, the project is “…an exciting new exhibit that will engage visitors in the exploration of our state’s natural past, present, and future.” The California Trail will contain animals indigenous to the state like California Condors and Mountain Lions to name a few.

The funding for the project, which is upwards of $60 million, has private funders as well as money from Oakland taxpayers who approved Measure G in 2002 that allocated nearly $7 million to state parks.

The final ruling was made official Nov. 18 and the ability to preserve the natural habitat of the California Whip Snake was the final hurdle.

The Nov. 11 vote by the city council was also passed and essentially provides untouchable land for native plants and animals within the facility.

“I think this is a great thing for everybody that is a fan of the zoo,” Oakland resident John Mackovich said. “I have been going to the zoo for over 30 years and it is going to be great to have some local animals on display.”

Sixteen years after its original proposal the project is now moving forward with an official groundbreaking ceremony tentatively scheduled for the upcoming spring of 2015.

“It is going to take about two to three years to build the California Trail,” East Bay Zoological Society Chief Financial Officer Nik Dehejia said. “We are hopeful that the project will open in 2017 now that we have gotten passed most of the legal obstacles.”

The vote passed by a margin of 6-2 allowing the zoo to finally begin the project that received its initial approval in 1998.

The city council then approved a master plan for the project as well as renovations and additions to the entire facility.

In 2008 after completing renovations the zoo made modifications to the project and went through an environmental review when it was discovered that the California Whip Snake was found to be living on the proposed land.

In 2011 following the second environmental review, the zoo and the city were sued by the Friends of Knowland Park as well as the California Native Plant Society. The lawsuit claimed that the modifications made to the original plan in 1998 required a new project requiring more inquiries from state and federal agencies.

“The zoo and the city were both taken to court through the lawsuits and it certainly slowed us down,” Dehejia said. “It took some time to get past it but once we did things really started rolling.”

However, not everybody is on board with the plans to go forward with the new attraction.

“So we just have to get rid of California animals to get new California animals?”

Animal rights activist Gordon Bostick said. “They have so much land to build on and it seems to defeat the purpose of displacing animals to showcase new animals.”

With nearly 490 acres of land within the zoo and Knowland Park the project would not be possible on existing land within the park.

“People say that the land is already there and we don’t need to utilize other areas,” Dehejia said. “After all of our research and studies we found that the project was just not feasible with the existing land.”

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