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Despite failure of Measure A1, Oakland Zoo to go ahead with California Trails project

on December 11, 2012

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.


  1. Tyler on December 12, 2012 at 11:18 am

    This development is so patently ridiculous, I’m amazed that anyone can take this zoo seriously.
    I mean: “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.
    What? You want to put (extinct) Grizzlies and (extinct) Jaguars up here in a residential neighborhood, and build a 56acre fence …in case they get loose?
    And that’s just one of about a dozen whoppers in this plan.

  2. PRE on December 12, 2012 at 4:24 pm

    While it’s a shame that Measure A1 didn’t pass, I’m glad that the California Trails project is still moving forward. The Zoo is a terrific Oakland resource for not just Oaklanaders but for the entire Bay Area. Oakland needs more opportunities to put our best foot forward. As far as this article is concerned it might be nice to have interviewed some of the Oakland residents who support the Zoo project. It’s also not clear if the statement about clearing out 56 acres of native grassland game from a quote from Mr. Denaro or from the writer of this article, but the native grasslands have been gone from that area for going on 150 years now. Virtually all of the East Bay grasslands are non-native European grasses and this project isn’t going to change that.

    • Laura Baker on December 13, 2012 at 9:04 am

      Unfortunately, the statements that the native grasslands are gone from Knowland Park is inaccurate. The zoo’s own environmental document identifies the native grasslands at the project site. It’s important to recognize the difference between rare and extirpated, since that’s where conservation efforts are hugely important. Fewer than 1% of the state’s original native grasslands now exist but stands such as those at Knowland Park are exemplar quality stands that should be preserved for study and for the benefit of future generations.

  3. […] Read the rest of the story and see the video by Tawanda Kanhema at Oakland North. […]

  4. Karen Smith on December 29, 2012 at 3:41 pm

    Contrary to the protestations of the zoo representative in the video clip, the construction project the zoo plans to build on 56 acres of native habitat in Knowland Park is much closer to a mall than a native wildlife conservation facility. The zoo’s business and development interests have blown this project up far beyond anything needed for conservation programs. The development will be at the expense of acres of real California native habitat and free public access to natural open space that is becoming increasingly rare in dense urban areas.
    Zoo management’s lack of respect for Knowland Park’s rich California native habitat shines a light on its lack of commitment to true conservation education: They refuse to accept the scientific research of the habitat there, and have written it off as just a lot of invasive grasses and French broom. It seems the business model has already paved over the minds of people who should know better. Knowland Park is a treasure that should be protected and cared for by the city of Oakland for the people of Oakland. Instead, it has been hidden from the public, making way for the zoo’s ill-conceived and grandiose construction projects—first on these 56 acres, and then more, and more, until there is no parkland left to explore, have a picnic, fly a kite, or photograph; no chance for anyone to learn about this natural world from the experience of actually being there.

  5. Elizabeth on February 4, 2013 at 7:35 pm

    Thank you Karen for voicing what may not seem obvious to some. I live very near the park and it is one of the most peaceful places in the Bay area and has spectacular views.

    It saddens me that this expansion is happening.

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