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“Changing the Face of Oakland” Vote no on measure A1

Alameda County Measure A1 has nothing to do with animal welfare

by John Reimann

“[The project] totally changes the face of the zoo, it changes the face of Oakland.”*

Those are the words of Zoo Director of Strategic Initiatives Nik Dehejia when speaking of the Oakland Zoo’s expansion plans for Knowland Park. What can it possibly mean to “change the face of Oakland”? To understand that, we have to take the expansion plans as well as ballot Measure A1 in their larger context. This includes the history of how taxes have changed over the years. Right after WW II, US corporate taxes equalled over 5% of the total economy (the GDP). By 2009, they had shrunk that to just 1%.
(source: http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/taxfacts/displayafact.cfm?Docid=263)
In California, we have seen a similar process, as total corporate profits increased in the state by 485% from 2001 to 2010 but their tax liability only increased by 58.3%
(Source: http://www.cbp.org/pdfs/2012/120413_Who_Pays_Taxes.pdf)

Privatization

This process has devastated public services, especially public education, so what’s gone along with this has been the increased private funding and outright privatization of services such as education. Thus, we have the Bill Gates Foundation, the Eli Broad Foundation, and others in part funding public education. Of course, they do this with a price, and the price is that these unelected corporate owners get to have a direct influence in how the education system is run, not as individual citizens, but as corporate donors. Part of that influence is to move to take education out of the public realm altogether.

Zoo Board of Directors
Ballot Measure A1 on the Alameda County-wide ballot takes this to the next level. Under Measure A1, more than $100 million of public money would flow to a private nonprofit corporation that operates the Zoo, and Zoo management and the Board of Directors get to decide how that money is spent. The measure is written very broadly so that they can spend it on almost anything related to animals or the Zoo. Oversight is only after the fact, not authority to approve expenditures, and the citizens oversight group is a nonelected body that could even include zoo employees.

To get a sense of what they are after, let’s consider who sits on that board. An article in the SF Chronicle
(http://blog.sfgate.com/abraham/2011/02/11/oakland-zoo-names-new-board-members-including-mark-mcclure/)
gives the lowdown on the Board members:

“Jim Wunderman is President and CEO of the Bay Area Council, a business-backed public policy organization…. Sebastian DiGrande is a Partner and Managing Director at the Boston Consulting Group, a global management consulting firm and the world’s leading advisor on business strategy…. Daniel Boggan, Jr…. assisted the municipal firm of Siebert, Branford & Shank Co. in business development from 2003 to 2006…. Cassady Hudson is a Senior Revenue and Royalty Analyst at Hands-on Mobile…. Mark McClure is a partner at California Capital and Investment Group, a real estate brokerage and development firm based in Oakland CA. He has worked on both residential and commercial development projects primarily in the City of Oakland…. Lora Tabor is the General Manager, Corporate & Services HR, for Chevron Corporation in San Ramon….”

The board is self perpetuating in that in order to get on the board one has to be voted on by current board members.

Regressive Tax
Considering the complete corporate control of the Board of Directors of the Zoo (East Bay Zoological Society), it should be no surprise that the tax they are proposing in Measure A1 is regressive – that is, it hits lower and middle income people the hardest. While it is “only” $12 per residence per year, we have to realize that this means that a $200,000 single family home owner in the heart of Oakland will be paying the same $12 as the owner of a $1.5 million mansion or a 150 unit apartment complex! Under A1, business owners pay $72 per year, regardless of whether they are a mom-and-pop corner grocery store or a multi-million dollar corporation.

“Family Friendly?”
While the Zoo markets itself as a family-friendly place, it’s more friendly for some families than for others. Just to park and get into the zoo costs a family of four (with kids between 2 and 14 years old) costs $54, and that doesn’t include the money parents will inevitably spend on rides and snacks. Holding a birthday party there will cost up to $410. Even some of their educational programs come with a charge. Presently the zoo is advertising a presentation on bats – at a charge of $10 per admission ticket.

Zoo’s Expansion Plans
In a debate on KQED Radio Forum on Oct. 22, Zoo executive Nik Dehejia denied that Measure A1 funds will go to the zoo’s expansion plans, which would site a huge building in unspoiled Knowland Park. The reality is that the measure says that the tax money collected can be used “to pay for the services and projects of the Oakland Zoo”. It defines “projects” to include: “Financing the construction of new or renovation of existing Oakland Zoo capital facilities.” It also includes “constructing, expanding, remodeling, renovating, furnishing, equipping, or financing of facilities.”

In other words, Measure A1 money clearly can be used to finance their expansion plans. And given the Board’s demonstrated priorities, that is almost certainly what it will be used for. And what are these expansion plans?

Theme Park in Oakland?
Basically, the Board wants to turn the zoo into a theme park, complete with a huge new aerial gondola ride, an (assuredly) high price “destination” restaurant, and a gift shop-visitor center-office complex. In fact, there is hardly any limitation as to what they can build. But can a theme park pay for itself, never mind be profitable, in Oakland? Remember the Oakland Coliseum, which has cost the City tens of millions? People who live in Oakland may want to look around and ask themselves: just whose faces of Oakland are supposed to change with this plan? Is the underlying aim to accelerate the gentrification that has driven many low income people of color out of the city?

Keep Knowland Wild and Beautiful!
Oakland’s Knowland Park is a precious heritage for our children. It is the largest open space park by far in the city. It is a place where children can run and explore nature. Dog owners can take their dogs there. Visitors can get unrivaled views of the entire Bay. We all need such areas to get away from it all. Everyone can go there. And it’s all free.

There is a growing trend to see such undeveloped land that is free for the use as being unproductive exactly because it doesn’t bring in any money. Oakland residents – and all of us in the area – have a vested interest in making sure that Knowland Park remains as it is. We have to vote down Measure A1… and then go on to make sure that the expansion plans of the Zoo are put where they belong — where the elephants and other Zoo animals leave their “deposits”.

Oct 24, 2012
John Reimann  has been an Oakland resident since 1969 and has been active in various community and labor causes for many years. He can be reached at 1999wildcat@gmail.com)

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Leah Hall October 28, 2012 at 08:08 PM
I support measure A1 and the Oakland Zoo and its expansion plans, which have undergone a long public process since 1998. I believe it is unfair for opponents to conflate Measure A1 with this other initiative funded by grants and donations. In politics, passions flare and seemingly every distortion and whopper is permissible, so I urge my fellow citizens to think about this carefully and research balanced sources and the history before coming to a decision. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, in the US, most zoos are supported partially or wholly out of public funds by the town, city, or state in which they are located. The National Zoological Park, in Washington DC, was founded by Congress in 1889-90. Its site was purchased by the US government, and running expenses are provided from public funds. The Zoological Park in the Bronx, New York City, and the Philadelphia Zoological Garden are managed by zoological societies. Both are supported partly by the subscriptions of members, partly by entrance fees, and partly by annual civic subsidies. Earlier this year, community family favorites like the Oakland Zoo, Fairyland, Peralta Hacienda, arts programs and Symphony in the Schools all saw their city funding slashed by 40 percent due to the loss of redevelopment funds from Sacramento. (continued)
Leah Hall October 28, 2012 at 08:18 PM
As a result of these cuts, several recreation centers in Oakland have reduced hours. Funding for the Jack London Aquatic Center, which is used by hundreds of kids and adults for rowing, kayaking and other waterfront activities, is being eliminated. 
Libraries and most senior services will not be affected. Seniors vote. Kids under 18 years of age (and young low-income parents?) do not.

 Most of the redevelopment cuts have come from economic development, particularly programs used to spur growth in lower-income neighborhoods. The Oakland Zoo and Knowland Park are adjacent to East Oakland, which is one of the areas being hit the hardest by these cuts.

 The Oakland Zoo currently has 26,000 member households. The San Francisco Zoo, by comparison, has 23,900. Only 15% of the Oakland Zoo’s visitors come from Oakland, which is why the zoo decided to broaden its funding scope to include the rest of Alameda County, according to the zoo director.
 http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Oakland-budget-cuts-hit-zoo-Children-s-Fairyland-2681757.php
Tyler November 04, 2012 at 06:14 PM
So we cut funding for schools and police, and give in to this land grab con? All for the sake of 'lion treats' and the zoo's outreach? Sorry, it still makes no sense.
Richard Mellor November 04, 2012 at 06:27 PM
Lions belong in Africa. They eliminated the animal shelter on Fairview they care about animals so much. All the politicians pretty much support this measure because they are all in one way or another candidates of business, even the liberals. Their policy is to attract business, but business has some demands of its own. Are the zoo workers Union? The reason they made this county wide is that many workign class people in Oakland can't afford to go to the zoo, people from San Ramon and Dublin can. This is already my land and I can enjoy the native fauna and see the native animals whose welfare is threatened by this measure. I don't need a theme park thanks.More public transport and easier access for workers from the flatland tp the parks would be a better deal.
Fred Eiger November 04, 2012 at 07:31 PM
Earth to Richard, Earth to Richard, eucalyptus trees are not native to Oakland Hills. Any natural fauna around that toilet known as the Oakland Zoo was pulled out 100 years ago. And if people in Oakland, Camden Avenue to be exact, can find money to buy malt liquor, cigarettes, crack and meth, they can afford to go to the Zoo.
Ruth Malone November 04, 2012 at 08:16 PM
Earth to Fred: there are two: count 'em: TWO--big eucalyptus trees in the upper part of Knowland Park that is at stake with this expansion, which it sounds as though you've never visited. And they were likely introduced by the zoo's practice of dumping its manure in the park, since the area of the zoo has lots of eucalytpus and the two that are there appeared after the dumping began, according to Google Earth photos of the area across time. But the point is to discuss Knowland Park, which is not--repeat, is not--the zoo. The area of the planned expansion is extremely rich with native plants and wildlife and we already have information about that on our website, www.saveknowland.org and are getting ready to post more just sent to us by a wildlife photographer who has been taking photos in the park. Fauna are living wild creatures-- they aren't "pulled out." You seem to be suggesting that people are poor because they are buying malt liquor, etc. That may be true for some, but the vast majority are working hard just to make ends meet, and it's insulting to suggest otherwise. There are social justice issues at stake with this, not only environmental issues. And to make a Mom-and-Pop corner store in San Leandro pay the same as a multimillion-dollar corporation? Doesn't seem quite right to me.
Richard Mellor November 04, 2012 at 08:39 PM
Ruth, I would not waste time responding to this Fred guy; he's not serious. He has not the courage and strength of his convictions to identify with the positions he takes. You don't know who your talking to and he is one of those who have found a nice little niche here in cyberspace. Step back for a minute and re-read his comments, his racist and anti-worker comments about Oakland. He is a coward, Ruth. let him argue with himself.
Fred Eiger November 04, 2012 at 10:30 PM
Social Justice??? Another euphemism for socialism and laziness.
Fred Eiger November 04, 2012 at 10:31 PM
Racist? If someone buys watermelon flavored 42 oz malt liquor what is so racist about that?
Fernando November 04, 2012 at 10:52 PM
It is not a conflation of issues, as you present it, because the actual *legally binding* language of measure A1 explicitly allows the zoo to use the A1 funds for expansion. You don't have to take my word for it, I am simply quoting it: Section 1, Chapter 2.30.010 Definitions, Paragraph H explicitly states that financing the construction of new or renovation of existing Oakland Zoo capital facilities is within the definition of services and projects. Again, don't take my word for it, simply read the actual text of the measure, which is the *only* document with legal weight: http://www.acgov.org/rov/documents/2012-11-06MeasureA1.pdf. Any non-legally-binding assurances of zoo executives made to the media are meaningless, because they can ignore them once the measure is passed. Nobody can be convicted of going back on a promise they made to a journalist. The question is simply: does passing A1 give the zoo executives, who are NOT obliged to disclose their expenditures to the public in full (since they are a private non-profit and not a public entity) a $100 million blank check over 25 years that they can pretty much use for whatever they want, including the privatization of open space? The answer to that question is an unqualified yes as can be seen by anyone who cares to READ THE LAW, and not simply to listen to what the zoo executives say. I know I'm not willing to write blank $100M check to a private entity on my taxes, that's for sure.
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