You Tell Us: Vote yes on Measure A1

It’s one thing to debate the issues and quite another to spread misinformation or outright lies about current ballot initiatives. Whatever your opinion of Measure A1, (and I hope everyone votes YES!), we need to hold people accountable to the truth.

The Oakland Zoo is a community-benefit, non-profit institution that is owned by the City of Oakland. We have been in the community since 1922. The zoo and City of Oakland renewed its management agreement, in place since the 1980s, for the next 30 years, never before done by the city and demonstrating the value of the zoo to the community. The zoo always has carefully managed both private and public funds and is proud to have the highest rating on Charity Navigator, an independent charity evaluating organization.

The Oakland Zoo is one of the most respected in the country. As anyone who has spent time at the zoo knows, we are not a “theme park,” as some have suggested. We have earned the respect of many animal welfare groups, including PETA, the Humane Society, and In Defense of Animals for our unapologetic commitment to the welfare of animals.

If you read the Measure A1 Expenditure Plan, you will see that, by law, the money must be used for animal care, children’s educational programs and maintaining the zoo’s affordability. It does specify that money would go towards upgrading animal enclosures and repairing animal shelters – but this “construction” is a far cry from using the funds to expand the zoo. The real truth here is that a local chapter of California Native Plant Society and local neighbors have tried to stop progress.

From 2008-2011, the Oakland Zoo engaged in a public, democratic process with a more than 1,000-page environmental document to review the California Project. CNPS and neighbors challenged it every step of the way and lost. They even challenged it in court and lost, wasting money that could have been spent on animal care and children’s education programs.  Still not satisfied with the democratic and legal processes of our society, they have now chosen to take a stand against Measure A1.

Measure A1 is not a referendum on an approved project that is moving forward. Measure A1 is about critically needed animal care, maintaining and expanding essential education programs, and ensuring the zoo stays affordable to all levels of society. Measure A1 funds will be closely monitored by an independent oversight committee comprised of nine members, appointed by five different agencies, and representing six stakeholder groups, including the League of Women Voters. The zoo appoints two of the nine members and your publicly-elected Board of Supervisors, with accountability from the Oversight Committee, have ultimate authority to ensure funds are spent according to the Expenditure Plan (Section 2.30.050E of Ordinance).

The tax of $1/month cannot be changed by the zoo, the City of Oakland, or even the Board of Supervisors. Only you, the voters, can elect to change it.

Don’t just take our word and commitment. Listen to science and environmental education teachers; veterinarians; environmental and conservation organizations (East Bay Regional Park District, Bay Area Puma Project, Ventana Wildlife Society, and Wildlife Conservation Network), progressive Democrats (Congresswoman Barbara Lee, State Senator Loni Hancock, Alameda Democratic Party, East Bay Young Democrats, Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club) and leading newspapers (San Francisco Chronicle and San Francisco Bay Guardian), all of whom support the Oakland Zoo and planning for its healthy future via Measure A1.

Nik Dehejia is the director of strategic initiatives for the East Bay Zoological Society, which operates and manages the Oakland Zoo.

You can read a You Tell Us op-ed against 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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16 Comments

  1. Sequoyah Highlands

    Calling someone a liar does not make it so, and bragging about unrelated matters does not refute their claims nor expose them as lies. What it does it make readers wonder, why are you evading the issues? It’s pretty clear to all who care to look that there are way too many unanswered questions and unaddressed concerns in Measure A1, as in most that the Zoo has done and claimed in the past 15 years, to grant them much credibility. Vote No on A1!

  2. Alina

    I am sorry but things just don’t add up: the Zoo is expanding while at the same time claiming that they don’t have enough money to care for their animals. Which one is it?! You’re either planning expansions or coming upon hard times. Pick one and stick with it. Your credibility is in the gutter.

  3. Alina

    The bottom line is that if the Zoo has money for an expansion, then they should figure out a way to use that money for animal care. Unfortunately their priorities are upside down.
    I encourage everyone to read another op-ed piece (and the excellent reader comments) and vote NO ON A1. http://www.berkeleyside.com/2012/11/02/op-ed-fact-checking-the-pr-spin-measure-a1/

    • Nik

      So as not to confuse readers, the Zoo receives one-time restricted donations for projects that, by law, cannot be used for operational purposes such as feeding animals, delivering education programs, or providing veterinary care. The voters in Oakland supported and approved one-time restricted funding for the California Trail project. As most non-profit, cultural institutions understand, capital restricted dollars and operational dollars are distinct and separate. This is the case as well with the Oakland Zoo. Most importantly, it’s up to the community to decide what instiution they want to have in Oakland.

      • Alexa Fraser

        Does the zoo have enough money for the expansion? Why is it in the measure in Section 2.30.010. Definitions. part H. “Services and Projects” that the zoo can use our tax dollars towards constructing and expanding facilities? Sounds like the zoo could use our tax dollars towards the expansion. Why doesn’t the zoo open up the books to the public and show us you have the cash for this “conservation” expansion? Maybe more people would vote “Yes” if you were a little more up front about your finances. Also doesn’t the zoo need some kind of permit to kill a threatened species before it builds?

      • Sequoyah Highlands

        Good idea, Nik, let’s LET the public decide how the Zoo should conduct its affairs. Why not just throw open the books, then, and prove to us that what you claim is true? Forgive my skepticism, but if you can’t afford to do your jobs now, how much worse will things be after you’ve expanded? Will you come to the voters again and ask for MORE money? No, sorry, I just don’t believe you, and I urge all to Vote No on Measure A1!

        • Jennifer

          This is my biggest issue! If I am paying a tax to something, their books must be open to me. If I am having to pay a tax to a PRIVATE organization, everything they plan to do and everything they have done in the past must be in the open. But the zoo jealousy guards all of this information while asking us to trust them, because, “Do you hate cute animals?”

          Open your books. Show us what this public tax for a private venture gains us.

  4. When Mr. Dehejia refers to restricted funds, he is referring to Measure G passed in 2002 by Oakland City voters who were told that the money from this bond measure would be used to build a expansion of the Oakland Zoo(along with several other zoo projects and projects for the Oakland Museum and the Chabot Space and Science Center). I voted for that measure, not understanding that the expansion meant that the zoo would expand into upper Knowland Park, since nowhere in the voter pamphlet was there any mention of that fact. If I had known (and I often wonder how many others also felt deceived by the bond measure language) that the zoo intended to expand into sensitive portions of Knowland Park, I would not have voted for it. Because the zoo has abundant land around it that would more suitably support an expansion without destruction of important native plant and wildlife habitat, I assumed that the expansion would take place there, as would be appropriate. I believe that Measure G was deceptively worded, just as Measure A1 is deceptively worded. Although I take responsibility for not adequately and independently informing myself of the zoo’s intentions in 2002, today I have taken the responsibility to inform myself fully and to share that with others. There’s a pattern here of deception in the process of asking voters for more money for the zoo. The whole truth is never told. Today we know better. The second aspect of this is that most of the annual public funding that the zoo receives is NOT restricted. The money that it receives from the City of Oakland from its Transient Occupancy tax (and any General Fund monies), the money from the County, and the money from Measure CC (the East Bay Regional Park District’s bond measure) are all unrestricted and can be used for any purpose. And that’s on top of the money it receives from admissions, memberships, concessions, and private funding (only some of which is restricted). To imply that the zoo doesn’t have abundant sources of unrestricted funding would be absurd. I do agree with Mr. Dehejia that the community does indeed need to decide what kind of institution it wants but also what kind of park it wants since Measure A1 will most certainly have a bearing on Knowland Park.

  5. Nik Dehejia uses classic PR spin techniques to divert attention from arguments against Measure A1, but fails to rebut the key argument of Measure A1 opponents, namely that the funds can be used to build the zoo’s controversial and environmentally destructive expansion project on occupied wildlife and plant habitat in Knowland Park.

    The measure’s language clearly allows funds to be used for the zoo’s controversial expansion project. Any voter can read and understand the relevant sections. It is the “Definitions” section that is crucial. It clearly defines “construction,” “expansion,” and “capital facilities” as within the scope of projects for which funds may be expended. In addition, the Expenditure plan indicates that the zoo may delete, add, “expand”, supplement, or substitute other projects. Every word in a measure such as this is chosen deliberately and carefully, and vetted numerous times. Only the wording of the measure itself—not Mr. Dehejia’s spin—is legally binding. There is no language whatsoever prohibiting use of the funds to pay for the expansion project or for other future expansions.

    Mr. Dehejia also alludes to PETA’s 2010 acknowledgment of improved conditions for captive elephants as though this constituted an endorsement of the zoo or Measure A1. In fact, PETA told us they were contacting their lawyers about the zoo’s unauthorized use of their name on pro-A1 campaign literature. PETA has most certainly not endorsed Measure A1, and never endorses zoos. And the expansion project will have devastating effects on the native wildlife that now rely on this parkland habitat for hunting, transit and rearing their young.

    The “democratic and legal processes” Mr. Dehejia references never included a vote by the public on whether they wished to fence off and sacrifice their public parkland for a zoo expansion. Politically well-connected, the zoo managed to get the Oakland City Council to approve this project despite its terrible environmental impacts and opposition from many environmental groups, including the Sierra Club. The measure Mr. Dehejia refers to in his comment was Measure G, and the wording of that measure read:

    In order to expand learning opportunities at the Oakland Zoo, Oakland Museum and Oakland’s Chabot Space and Science Center, shall the City of Oakland issue $59,000,000 in general obligation bonds at interest rates within the legal limit, to acquire, renovate, improve, construct, and finance existing and additional facilities and to qualify for private matching funds, with all funds raised by this measure staying in Oakland to expand programs and facilities at these institutions?

    Nothing in the measure mentioned Knowland Park. We begin to see a pattern emerging.
    Mr. Dehejia states that “the tax of $1/month cannot be changed by the zoo, the City of Oakland, or even the Board of Supervisors. Only you, the voters, can elect to change it.” But this is false and misleading. The measure actually states, in confusing legalese (Section 2.30.070) that the voters can only amend the measure to extend or increase the tax, and it expressly says that “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.”
    The Oakland Tribune, recommending a NO vote on Measure A1, reported that when asked, the zoo could not produce long range financial projections justifying this tax. This is consistent with our experience seeking more financial information from the private nonprofit corporation that operates the zoo: we have never been provided with financial documents that show where the funds for the expansion are coming from, and documents from a public records act request indicate that less than one month after this misguided expansion project was approved by the Oakland City Council, the zoo was out polling for this parcel tax. One cannot help but wonder if the zoo convinced the city to approve it with the promise that they would get county taxpayers to foot the bill.

    We recently posted a fact-checking document on our website (www.saveknowland.org ) where you can evaluate for yourself who is telling the truth to voters—the volunteers from many environmental and community groups who care about good government and public parkland, or well-paid PR spinners like Mr. Dehejia and other zoo staff currently engaging in nasty personal attacks on the opposition.

    We do agree with Mr. Dehejia on one thing: voters should not just take his word for how to vote. After trying to work with zoo executives on a better plan for many years, we now realize that they will say anything to get what they want. But voters don’t have to give it to them. Vote no on Measure A1.

    • Jennifer

      Thank you, Ms. Malone.

      What impresses me most is the educated and informed material available for No on A1. From the other camp, I see vitriol and mudslinging (and trespassing on my land and destroying my property to steal my No on A1 signs). Why are they so desperate?

  6. gregory dike

    “Most importantly, it’s up to the community to decide what instiution they want to have in Oakland.”

    Very true, however as a Zoo partron and supporter of the Zoo for many years i must admit to being hestitant to voting yes on this. It seems Oakland Zoo is engaging in a deceptive PR campaign and aggressively responding to any opposition. Having spent vast sums of money taking my family to the Zoo i am personally offended at the loaded language of their Campaign. Guilting Zoo Partons and using phrases like “Critical animal care”. I will be taking a closer look at the wording of the full measure before i vote; i’ll admit that my opinion of the people who run Oakland has been dented!

  7. adrian

    The bigger point here is that the Oakland Zoo is already funded by our cash-strapped city. At a time, when we can’t fix our roads, or hire more police officers, or keep the libraries open more than 5 days a week we shouldn’t be prioritizing a zoo. Animals are important, that’s why we have the East Bay SPCA. However, the zoo has enough money. It charges admission prices, and it is in fiscally good shape. If it has enough money to launch a 1 million dollar ad campaign for A1 it has enough money for animal care. Oakland needs to prioritize the crime problem, which is the biggest issue in Oakland. In fact, Oakland was just ranked the 3rd most dangerous city in the nation by Forbes magazine. Already this year, there have been over 100 homicides. The zoo has the money, so it therefore should not tax alameda county residents. Only taxes that are necessary should be approved. This is not necessary, and animal care should not be the top priority of the City of Oakland. Stop the bickering: Vote NO on A1 to stop unnecessary taxes.

  8. Mimi Pulich

    I agree with Mr. Dehejia that people should be held accountable to the truth, but I suspect that the only aspect of the expansion we agree about is the view. The number one question that Mr. Dehejia has yet to directly address here or anywhere else is why is it necessary for taxpayers to fund the zoo’s animal care and repairs while it simultaneously moves forward with a $70+ million dollar expansion?

    Contrary to what Mr. Dehejia has written, the text of Measure A1 does not put any restrictions on how the Board of Supervisors can amend it. That they can amend it “to assist the Oakland zoo in obtaining long-term financing for services and projects” is a means for the zoo to get the remaining $40 million it needs for the expansion. Mr. Dehejia also says “If you read the Measure A1 Expenditure Plan, you will see that, by law, the money must be used for ……” But the Expenditure Plan is not part of Measure A1, it’s not even referenced in the text of Measure A1, so nothing in it is legally binding.

    In my Op-Ed I wrote that the zoo had worked hard to blur the distinction between the zoo and Knowland Park. In his Mr. Dehejia blurs the distinction between the zoo and the East Bay Zoological Society non-profit corporation that manages it. The CEO’s, management consultants, business developers, and real estate brokers on its Board of Directors are cut out of a different cloth than the opponents of Measure A1 who place high value on the preservation of Knowland Park’s undisturbed native habitats and public oversight of taxpayer money.

  9. I am voting no on A1. It is bait and switch for a private corporate zoo to tax residents even more. The zoo may be a private fiefdom but I am not a serf. We have to prioritize public safety and education here, not a private zoo. Thank you.

  10. Ryan Hunter

    Measure A1 does have language that restricts the kinds of things it can be used for — though those purposes can be changed in the future. I expect that the zoo would use the money only for those purposes.

    But those proposed expenditures all sound like basic operating expenses to me. And there’s nothing to stop the zoo from just using A1 money to offset current basic operating funds and then direct THOSE funds to the Knowland Park expansion if they wish. In other words, the money is fungible, and all it takes is a not-very-difficult accounting trick to divert the money to the expansion.

    I’ve never been to the zoo or Knowland Park (though I’d like to go to both in the future), but I find A1 deceptive. There’s no guarantee that A1 will result in better animal care. We should be prioritizing public safety and quality of life issues for Oakland neighborhoods.

  11. I am thoroughly disgusted by the incredibly expensive campaign of misinformation put out by the Oakland Zoo in their attempts to pass Measure A1. Today I got two robo-calls from Kelly Sorenson, head of the Ventano Wildlife Society (think Condor reintroductions). Kelly stated that we shouldn’t be swayed by “lies” from opponents, and that we should “join him” in voting for Measure A1. But Kelly isn’t an Alameda Co resident. I returned the favor and called Kelly today. I informed him that he should have spent a bit more time educating himself before becoming a shill for the Zoo.

    Last week, I received an expensive glossy flyer touting the support of Barbara Lee, who in this case does NOT speak for me, and the S.F. Chronicle, whose reporters received several behind the scenes zoo tours. Awww, lookit all the cute animals! And there goes journalistic integrity.

    Buses have that “poor starving lion” cartoon on their sides, billboards around Oakland do, too.
    In fact, I would say, hands down, the Oakland Zoo has spent more money locally than anyone on any other campaign.

    When that kind of money and blanketing disinformation campaign is being waged, you have to wonder why. Over a million bucks and counting will buy a lotta ZooPreme for the lion. Perhaps the real reason is Zoo Director Joel Parrot’s megalomania…he hopes to have “the largest zoo in NA” by expanding the Zoo into pristine areas of upper Knowland Park.

    Not on my dime.

    Debbie Viess
    Oakland and Alameda Co. resident

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