Kids, Cats, Critters, and me for the Oakland Zoo!

After writing a blog post about the controversy surrounding Alameda County Measure A1 and seeing it disappear into WordPress purgatory, I got a little discouraged and then someone suggested the universe was trying to tell me something. Yeah, I think the universe is trying to tell me to fight the negativity, ugliness, and confusion surrounding every issue in the local, state, and national elections with a little thoughtfulness-just a little.

Maybe it’s better to step back and look at the specifics in this case. First of all, the Oakland Zoo is not some corporate entity. It is a park on land once owned by the state and now owned by Oakland to which the city and East Bay Regional Park District contribute a combined 15% of its operating budget.

Up until fairly recently, the city was able to contribute about 50% of costs but that has been cut severely. The zoo’s employees and programs have had to shoulder the costs of maintaining it at the former level but cannot continue to do that indefinitely without seeing a decline in the facility or the programs.

Yes, the zoo will be expanding its boundaries into the park and, no, I don’t want to get into that now. Zoo officials and workers and many who love the zoo, not some corporate raiders or bankers as they’ve been portrayed, say it will not go to the expansion. They have lots of wealthy folks and foundations who wish to contribute to that but very few of those sources offer funds for operating costs. Anyone who has ever worked for a non-profit or been on its board will know that that’s the case.

This zoo under, Dr. Parrott and this board, has gone from being a national disgrace to a nationally recognized habitat which is pioneering efforts to offer formerly abused and extremely endangered animals a safe haven and a habitat as natural as one can find minus the existence of predators and poachers.

It is a zoo which provides educational opportunities for young and old, even overnight camping for school kids, and jobs for East Oakland teens. It is a regional attraction in Oakland that even brings in tourists.

Here’s a blurb from the zoo’s 2006 timeline, “In response to the our mission to provide access to the whole community, the Oakland Zoo launched Zoo-to-Community, with the goal of providing free Zoo admission and transportation to qualified schools, daycare and Head Start programs, early childhood development centers and community organizations. In its first six months of operation, the Zoo-to-Community program exceeded its goal of booking and visiting twenty-five Head Start classrooms by more than 100%.”

So is this a private entity taking public dollars? I know non-profits have gotten a bad rap lately but they are designed specifically to provide good or services that the for-profit sector would not consider worthy. Should we demand accountability for our public funds? Of course, but let’s not go all crazy around this $12 request.

The funds so procured will be under an oversight committee; and to the extent the public pays attention, they will keep track of its uses. Has the zoo shown a propensity for wastefulness? Feeding left-over pumpkins or recycled trees to the elephants sure seems decadent to me??

Will the zoo and its fat cat board members (did you want skinny cat board members who don’t know where to dig for more funds?) cure the common cold, and eliminate crime in our neighborhoods, probably not. Do you buy the reactionary austerity argument that we can’t afford amenities for our community in tough times?

Really? I’m awfully glad Roosevelt and his administration didn’t see it that way. We’d be missing some bridges, murals, and parks if we progressives had hewed to that line.

But, if you don’t want to see this wonderful regional zoo decline again and want to see the local animals, the two-legged, four-legged (and other-legged) kind thrive, please donate one dollar a month to our zoo. The kids, the cats, and the critters will thank you.