Alameda County residents will have the final say on a controversial Nov. 6 ballot, Measure A1, which is a parcel tax geared towards improvements for the Oakland Zoo.
“The Oakland Zoo has been thinking about the Measure A1 process close to five or six years now,” said Nik Dehejia, director of strategic initiatives for the Oakland Zoo. “We recognize that the overall community supports the Oakland Zoo; 15 percent of our customers come from Oakland, while two-thirds come from Alameda County.”
The proposed property tax is aimed at Alameda County residents by annually levying $12 per household and $72 per commercial nonresident. It is expected to generate approximately $5.5 million a year for 25 years.
The tax revenue will go towards “taking care of the animals, expanding our educational programs throughout the county and ensuring that we remain accessible and affordable to our community,” Dehejia said.
Opponents of the Oakland Zoo’s property tax say the measure could fund an expansion that would level parts of neighboring Knowland Park, host to native plants and endangered species, like the Alameda whipsnake.
“Knowland Park is an extraordinary park,” Laura Baker chair of East Bay Chapter Natural Plant. “It has rare plant resources. It has an excellent wildlife habitat. It’s a beautiful public park currently with free public access.”
In late June 2011, Oakland’s City Council unanimously approved amendments to the expansion project, which was first sought after in the mid-1990s. Soon after its approval, opponents of the expansion filed an environmental lawsuit in July 2011, stating that the environmental and mitigation process was inadequate. The lawsuit resulted in a temporary injunction on construction and a reevaluation of the mitigation process. It was not appealed by the deadline in August 2011, Dehejia told The Pioneer.
Out of the 525-acre park ,the expansion will roughly be 34,000 square feet, according to opponents of the measure.
The expansion, part of East Bay Zoological Society’s 1998 Master Plan, includes a California Trail Project featuring native animals like grizzly bears, California condors and mountain lions, along with a veterinary hospital and a gondola lift from the front entrance.
However, Dehejia says the funding for the renovation has already been set aside from public and private sources and the money will not be used for the expansion, which has already started.
According to the Alameda County website, the funds will “require strict financial accountability, including independent financial audits, citizens oversight and an expenditure plan.”
Dehejia further explained the oversight committee would be a group of nine that would review the financial spending. He also said the committee could hold funding from the zoo if they disapprove of use of funds.
“We do believe that it has been written in such a way that gives carte blanche (blank check) to the zoo executives to decide whatever they want to do with the money,” said Baker.
Still, questions circulate around where the money might go. The opposition group, including Baker, confirmed with an attorney the wording in the measure could be used for the expansion plan, stated Baker at the League of Voters forum. She explained later in an interview the zoo’s funding has not been transparent.
Signers for the measure include Parrot, Nate Miley president of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, Sheila Jordan Alameda County Superintendent of Schools, Judith Cox Government Accountability and Transparency Advocate and Caleb Cheung recipient of Presidential Award for excellent in mathematics and science teaching. The pro arguments can be found on www.itsyourzoo.org.
Opponents to the measure include Baker, Ruth Malone Co-Chair, Friends of Knowland Park, Jim Hanson president of California Native Grasslands Association, Jeff Miller director of Alameda Creek Alliance and Elizabeth Baker vice president of Resource Renewal Institute. The con arguments can be found on www.saveknowland.org.
The veterinary hospital is complete and will start operating today.
Measure A1 needs two-thirds of the vote to pass into law.
Hayward went through a similar situation in 2005, with Stonebrae Country Club, a golf course that sits on the Hayward Hills. It was also home to the endangered Alameda whipsnake.
This entry was published in The Pioneer Online on Thursday, October 11th, 2012 at 2:04 pm.