You Tell Us: Vote no on Measure A1

Measure A1 on the Alameda County ballot hits me close to home. I grew up in the East Oakland hills surrounded by incredible open space. Beyond our backyards were hills and canyons where we emulated explorers and Indians, caught lizards, slid down grassy hillsides on cardboard and gave names to rocks and trees and places where we played. Two blocks from my house was a vast open space that I rediscovered when I started walking my dog there while visiting my mother. Being amidst familiar grasses, wildflowers, trees, butterflies, and birds and looking upon the entirety of the East Bay from the Berkeley Campanile to the Dunbarton Bridge never fails to reawaken the intimate connection I have with this land and my gratitude for it. As kids we called this area “Farmers’ Field,” perhaps because the crest of the hill was flat, because there were never any farmers. It’s never been developed, and today this area is part of Knowland Park. But for bulldozed firebreaks and the occasional presence of grazing goats, it has not changed in my lifetime.

But now it’s all about to change. Farmers Field is the future site of the Oakland Zoo’s $70+ million theme park, aka the zoo “expansion,” a half mile up the hill from the zoo. Everything in between is undeveloped and ecologically rich. Is the zoo expansion a done deal? Yes, if the zoo can afford it. They maintain that private donors have pledged most of the funds for its 34,000 square foot three-story building with a visitor center, restaurant, gift shop, and office complex, along with animal enclosures, a fence around the 54 acre compound, and gondolas. Overhead gondolas emanating from the zoo will transport the public to this remote area.

I began going to the Oakland Zoo when its animals were in cramped cages and its attractions were Effie the elephant blowing her horn and Rosebud the chimpanzee smoking cigarette butts thrown in his cage. I remember my first trip to the new zoo and my sense of wonder as I ascended the ramp encircling the monkey cage. In recent years I’ve taken my kids to the zoo and chaperoned their kindergarten and 1st grade field trips. I enjoy the zoo, and I truly appreciate how the East Bay Zoological Society transformed it into a special East Bay destination. But their agenda for the zoo conflicts with the preservation of open space and native habitats, and over the years they’ve worked very hard to blur the distinction between the Zoo and Knowland Park and to secure political allies that will back their proposals.

Measure A1 is a 25-year parcel tax and the zoo director says its funds won’t pay for the expansion. But the text of Measure A1’s amendment clause doesn’t guarantee this. It specifies that voters can only impose, extend or increase it, but the Board of Supervisors can amend it and they are not limited in any way. Measure A1 can be amended to pay for expansions into Knowland Park or anything else. For this reason I urge Alameda County voters to vote no on Measure A1.

Mimi Pulich is an Oakland native and life long resident of the Bay Area.  She started foraying into Berkeley, where she now lives, in her early teens when the hippies took over Telegraph avenue. She witnessed the beginning of the ecology movement in 1970, and she organized a school-wide week of activities at Skyline High to celebrate the first Earth Day. The roots of her passion then and now were cultivated in the open space of the Oakland Hills.

You can read a You Tell Us op-ed in favor of Measure A1 here.

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You Tell Us is Oakland North’s community Op-Ed page, featuring opinion pieces submitted by readers on Oakland-related topics. Have something to say? Send essays of 500-1,000 words to staff@oaklandnorth.net. We’d love to hear from you!

All essays reflect the opinions of their authors, and not of the Oakland North staff or the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Oakland North reserves the right to edit submissions for length, clarity and spelling/grammar. Oakland North does not pay for the the publication of opinion pieces. You Tell Us submissions must be written in civil and non-offensive language. We do not publish hate speech, libelous material, unsubstantiated allegations or rumors, or personal attacks on individuals or groups.

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22 Comments

  1. Thomas M. DeBoni

    Knowland Park belongs to all of us, not just the Zoo. It’s too fine a place to be bulldozed and “developed” to showcase animals now extinct there due to humans. The irony is equal in magnitude to the egos driving the planned expansion, and the cognitive dissonance of their asking for more money while they spend a $1M to promote their malfeasant meassure A1. The Zoo management, and the board of the East Bay Zoological Society need to be replaced by those with concern for the planet and ALL the creatures who inhabit it. Vote No on Measure A1!

  2. Stefanie Gandolfi

    I am sincerely grateful for the extraordinary work the Oakland Zoo is doing to improve the lives of wild animals in captivity and have always supported special taxes and bond measures to improve its facilities. While I know that the zoo is acting with the best of intentions, I am very unhappy with its current plan to expand its facilities by taking land in Knowland Park that provides invaluable habitat for animals that are still wild. Since it is my understanding that alternative configurations may exist, and that some of the funds generated by Measure A1 could be used for the expansion, I regret that at this time I have to vote No on Measure A1.

  3. Mimi Pulich’s wonderful description of her childhood discovery of the treasures of Knowland Park is a vision, not only of the past, but of the future. If we want to raise generations of people who love the earth and desire deeply to protect it, we have to take children into the nearby wild and let them experience it. The beauty of Knowland Park is that it is an astonishing and accessible park that offers us a chance to do just that. If we pave it over, put up a fence, with captive animals behind bars, we rob the future generation of this experience. Those of us who have had the fortunate opportunity of growing up near a wild space have a duty to preserve the wild so that others coming after us may continue to learn. Developing an “exhibit” on top of native habitat is short-sighted and wrong–one person I know calls it “burning the library.” Please visit wwwsaveknowland.org to look at some of the animals and plants that are in the Knowland Park library. And vote No on Measure A1 to save this living library.

  4. Ryan Hunter

    Here’s something I’ve never heard discussed about Measure A1: It’s true that the language of the measure prevents the fund itself from being used for the new expansion into Knowland Park. But the money is fungible. That means the zoo can use A1 money to offset regular operating expenses and use normal operating dollars for the new expansion. There’s no guarantee whatsoever that this additional money will actually increase the level of animal care currently provided by the zoo.

    • Jenny Range

      It’s not true that the measure prevents the funds from being used for the expansion. The measure specifically allows the money to be used for “constructing, expanding, remodeling, renovating, furnishing, equipping, or financing of facilities” and “financing the construction of new or renovation of existing Oakland Zoo capital facilities.”

  5. Jennifer Smith

    I live in Oakland now, but I grew up outside of the area. When I was young, we played in a field near the house – dreaming up bad guys and adventures. Our zoo relocated to those fields. As a child, we were thrilled! But, exactly like Oakland’s Zoo intends, they built commercial space on the same land. Now it is traffic backups, ugly buildings, and nowhere for my kids to play when we visit. The Zoo is still there, but it’s just a money making machine. Like Oakland Zoo, the nearby tax payers paid for it.

    This measure is non-removable for 25 years. TWENTY FIVE years! Imagine what can happen in 25 years. If we don’t like what the Zoo does (and as much as I enjoy zoos, I do not approve of their plans) it won’t matter. We’ll still be paying for it in 25 years. That’s a long commitment for a private group that hides it’s financials and plans.

  6. Barbara Kluger

    Thank you for sharing your story and information about the East Bay Zoological Society. It’s been an uphill battle to get the news out to the many parts of Alameda County that Measure A1 is a poor use of our tax dollars. I hope that enough people learn about this in time for their votes to make a difference.

  7. A zoo executive says the development plans will “change the face of Oakland.” As a long time Oakland “flatland” resident, I think we have to ask ourselves “whose face do they want to change?” That’s especially relevant when we look at who sits on their board of directors – corporate executives all, from such “caring” corporations as Chevron. Do we really want to give this private board the power to tax us and spend the money as they like?

  8. Dave Madole

    There is a level of disingenuous hyperbole that leads me to believe, as a voter, that 1) the writer assumes I’m an idiot or too lazy to look it up myself, and 2) they don’t have any real objections to make. “$70-million theme park” falls into that category of hyperbole. I’m done here. My vote is “Yes”.

    • Fernando Perez

      What exactly is hyperbole about that statement? The expansion is projected to cost $72 million, so this is simply a statement of fact.

      And as indicated above, promises from the zoo aside, the *letter of the measure* explicitly allows them to use the funds for any kind of construction or infrastructure project. They can promise whatever they want, as long as the letter of the measure allows it, they will then in the future be able to renege on any promises and use the money for expansion and construction without any legal consequences.

      Those are very real objections, based on factual information (the full text of the measure).

      You can find further details at http://www.noonmeasurea1.com/

      • dave madole

        Oh come now. You know damn well that “theme park”, especially associated with “zoo”, brings to mind a certain image. They could build liquor stores and drive through burger places, too.

        It’s fear mongering and I’m just plain sick of it. I believe what they say more than what you say because you’ve compromised your own credibility.

        • Fernando Perez

          It’s sad to see that you need to resort to this kind of language to keep the discussion moving forward.

          All I am stating are simple facts, contained in the text of the actual letter of the law: Section 1, Chapter 2.30.010 Definitions, Paragraph H of the full measure A1 (http://www.acgov.org/rov/documents/2012-11-06MeasureA1.pdf) explicitly indicates that financing the construction of new or renovation of existing Oakland Zoo capital facilities is within the definition of services and projects.

          Again, this is a simple statement of fact as per the letter of the law: measure A1 is pretty much a blank check for 25 years that would give $100 Million of taxpayer funds to an entity that doesn’t have, by law, to disclose its books to the public. Just go ahead and read the full text of the measure from the link above, don’t take my word for it.

    • Mimi Pulich

      From ROAR Summer/Fall 2011 Joal Parrott Director’s Message, : “we will move forward with building the California Trail, a wild animal park which, once completed, will make the Oakland Zoo one of the largest zoo’s in California.”

      From Wikipedia: Amusement parks and theme parks are terms for a group of entertainment attractions, rides, and other events in a location for the enjoyment of large numbers of people. An amusement park is more elaborate than a simple city park or playground, usually providing attractions meant to cater specifically to certain age groups, as well as some that are aimed towards all ages. Theme parks, a specific type of amusement park, are usually much more intricately themed to a certain subject or group of subjects than normal amusement parks.

      From Measure A1: Section 2.30.070. Amendment.
      This Chapter may only be amended by a vote of the people if the amendment would result in the special tax being imposed, extended, or increased in a manner not authorized by this Chapter as originally approved by the voters. The Board of Supervisors may enact other amendments, including but not limited to amendments necessary to assist the Oakland Zoo in obtaining long-term financing for services and projects

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