By Elizabeth Baker
Vice President, Resource Renewal Institute
Measure A1 asks us to consider what is more valuable in the long run: wild animals or captive animals?
Perhaps most important, Measure A1 suggests that walking at dusk across oak-studded hillsides where we can hear owls, see foxes and study native plants is the same as paying to see an artificial exhibition featuring those same wild creatures in captivity.
The Oakland Zoo wants to grab a large chunk of Knowland Park , a place full of rare, native California plants and animals in order to develop it with unlimited buildings and infrastructure. Knowland Park was deeded to Oakland from the state in 1975 on the condition that it always remain a public park, but the zoo’s plans will result in the public’s having to pay to see exhibitions featuring wild animals behind bars.
To cover this patently absurd zoo-expansion plan, Measure A1’s proponents argue it is about humane animal care and educational programs at the Oakland Zoo. But don’t be fooled.
East Bay property-owners are being asked to tax themselves for an exhibit to teach children about what California was like in its natural, undisturbed state at the same time as it destroys some of the last, best examples of native plant and wildlife habitat in the East Bay hills.
Measure A1 will impose a 25-year, irrevocable parcel tax that can be used to fund the Oakland Zoo’s planned multimillion-dollar expansion project and future expansions into the 500-acre Knowland Park. Knowland Park is so botanically rich it is listed as a Priority Protection Area by the East Bay Chapter of the California Native Plant Society. The land supports two rare plant communities and a wide variety of native wildlife, including mountain lions and the threatened Alameda Whipsnake.
Resource Renewal Institute and our Defense of Place project work on diverse conservation issues to protect public resources in perpetuity. We fight with volunteer passion to keep our irreplaceable inheritance of wild places, especially urban parks that are wild and open to the public. We the American public, the owners of public parks, inherit both the opportunity to interact directly with nature and the civic responsibility to pass them on to the next generation. When protected lands are bulldozed to make way for golf courses, theme parks and, yes, zoos, democracy itself is bruised.
A growing number of institutions and municipalities violate deeds of trust in order to sell and/or develop public parklands. But in November, citizens can slow this trend by voting NO on Alameda County Ballot Measure A1, a measure that we found so deceptive that Resource Renewal signed the ballot argument against it.
The zoo is a strong and wonderful part of Oakland. But it is getting desperate. It plans to spend a million dollars on its campaign; according to an East Bay Express article (Oct. 18, 2012), the Zoo has broken multiple laws in its zeal to grab both public money, public land and public goodwill; and it refuses to propose an expansion plan that can easily earn broad support.
Destroying wildlife habitat in order to tell a story about protecting it just doesn’t make sense.
I hope Alameda County voters will stand with their own strong environmental traditions and preserve the East Bay’s natural heritage by voting NO on Measure A1.