This November, voters in Alameda County rejected a proposed parcel tax aimed at creating a stable source of income for the Oakland Zoo. Many of the measure’s opponents objected to the zoo’s multi-million dollar expansion plans, even though zoo officials said funding from the measure would be used for animal care, repairs of existing facilities, and the zoo’s veterinary hospital, not the expansion. Despite the failure of Measure A1, the zoo will go ahead with planned construction of the California Trails project, which officials say has been in the cards for more than a decade.
The Oakland Zoo’s ZooCamp director, Sarah Cramer, said Measure A1 had nothing to do with the planned construction of an exhibition and buffer zone that will sit on 56 acres of Knowland Park. “The exhibition itself will occupy 18 acres, but we need a buffer zone so that should an animal escape, we are able to capture it and bring it back,” Cramer said.
Preservationists have objected to the expansion because of concerns that it will encroach on native plant species as well as the habitat of the threatened Alameda whipsnake.
Laura Baker of the California Native Plant and Animal Society said the California Trails project would take up the best part of Knowland Park. “It would take what we call the heart of the park,” Baker said. “There is a cruel irony in building something to honor the species we have lost by wiping out endangered species.”
Oakland resident Joe Denaro, who lives on the margins of Knowland Park, said for a neighborhood that is already fed up with the volume of traffic that comes into the zoo, an expansion project would require new city streets. “I live close enough to the zoo that on weekend it’s impossible to drive by there,” Denaro said. “Unless they are willing to build new city streets, it’s going to be a disaster just at that level.”
Denaro also questioned the logic of clearing out 56 acres of native grassland to erect a conservation exhibit. “An exhibit that will show extinct species by creating more extinct species, will they also put those things in there?” he asked. “That’s, like, nuts. I don’t get that.”
Watch the video for more interviews with zoo staff and neighbors.