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 34K square foot 3-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.