Oakland Zoo Parcel Tax, Measure A1 (November 2012)
Measure A1 would have levied a 25-year parcel tax of $12 per parcel per year for single family residences and $72 per parcel per year for nonresidential properties. This would have resulted in new tax revenues of about $4.5 million a year, or a total of $112 million over the 25-year duration of the proposed tax.
The campaign over Measure A1 was hotly contested, with campaign spending reaching the $600,000 mark as of October 20.
In the wake of the loss of Measure A1, the Oakland Zoo received an anonymous $1 million contribution. The funds can be used for general purposes at the zoo (that is, the funds are not earmarked for any particular purpose or program.)
A 2/3rds supermajority vote was required for passage.
- Final certified results from the Alameda County elections office.
Arguments in favor
- The campaign website claimed that Measure A1 was needed to meet the basic needs of Zoo animals, and that the public should provide additional funding. Specifically, their website said that Measure A1 would help to ensure animals are safe and enclosures are well maintained, to provide animals with food, heating/cooling and clean, fresh watering systems, to repair aging animal shelters, sewage/drainage systems and retain quality veterinarians.
- Nate Miley said, "We need to keep the Oakland Zoo the high-quality, regional cultural attraction that it is...one that hundreds of thousands of children, families and seniors from all over Alameda County will continue to visit and enjoy."
- The East Bay Zoological Society spent $248,000 on Measure A1 as of September 30.
- The East Bay Zoological Society also donated $375,000 to the "Yes on Measure A1" political committee.
- At a political event in mid-October, the Zoological Society’s executive director, Joel Parrott, told the audience that the Zoological Society is prepared to spend up to $1 million in campaign funds on Measure A1.
The East Bay Zoological Society receives its funds from taxpayers and private donors. From 2008 through 2010, it received an average of $2.8 million each year from various taxpayer sources, including the City of Oakland.
- A coalition called Save Knowland Park
- The East Bay Chapter of the California Native Plant Society
- Friends of Knowland Park
- The California Native Grasslands Association
- The California Wildlife Foundation/California Oaks
- Defense of Place
- The California Chaparral Institute.
The East Bay Express editorialized against Measure A1, writing, "We're urging 'no' votes, however, for Measure A1, a countywide parcel tax that would benefit the Oakland Zoo. The zoo already receives plenty of taxpayer funding, and we believe the organization needs to become more self-sufficient. We're also concerned that the loosely worded measure would allow the zoo to spend the tax funds on its controversial expansion plans, rather than on caring for its animals. And we're troubled by the fact that the zoo spent its own money on a glossy mailer sent to residents at a time when it's claiming to need more taxpayer funds." 
The Oakland Tribune editorialized against Measure A1, writing, "The zoo's operating budget is close to balanced today. Society officials say they would use the money for needed capital improvements and then transition more funds to operating expenses. But, when we asked, they were unable to produce long-range financial projections to justify the tax. We would have been fine with a five-year measure for a list of needed capital projects. But this doesn't have one. Vote no."
Opponents made these arguments against Measure A1:
- The Zoo tax "could be used to fund $72 million massive zoo expansion into public park land in Knowland Park (Oakland’s largest wildland park)" which "paves over and destroys ecologically rich wildlife and native plant habitat" and "displaces a rare plant community used by many species of native wildlife, including threatened Alameda whipsnake."
- The tax would give "taxing authority to a private organization with no publicly elected representatives," that "the Zoo already gets public funds from multiple sources" and that the measure "creates burden for low-income seniors" by forcing low-income seniors who want to apply for an exemption to "apply each and every year to the zoo operator, creating an additional burden and requiring them to submit their personal financial information to a private entity with no accountability to voters."
- "Measure A1 gives a huge amount of tax dollars to a nongovernmental entity that has no publicly elected representatives. It is written so broadly that all the funds can potentially be shifted to further expand the zoo rather than simply sustain it, despite Zoo executives’ claims that Measure A1 isn’t about expansion. And the public has no recourse if they object to how their tax dollars are spent, for if they do uncover improper spending and take legal action, the Zoo is allowed to use our public tax dollars to defend itself, meaning the public would pay for both sides of the case."
Opponents also questioned the arguments made by the "Yes on Measure A1" campaign that the new money was needed to better care for the zoo's animals. One opponent wrote, "Over the past three weeks, my mailbox has been inundated with glossy flyers and giant postcards exhorting me to vote YES on A1 for Animal Care, the 25-year parcel tax that would benefit the Oakland Zoo. One four-page flyer describes the pitiful state of the zoo’s infrastructure, including 'plumbing and drainage systems [that] are over 40 years old' and 'leaking reptile exhibits.' A second flyer exhorts me to 'Help Our Animals & Kids' and features a handwritten message from Maya, age 10, who likes 'going to the zoo' and pleads with me to 'help take care of my friend Leonard.' It’s followed by a third flyer with a lovely photo of the majestic lion himself, detailing Leonard’s history of abuse before coming to the Oakland Zoo, and explaining the need for my tax money to buy him 'milk & raw eggs.' A giant postcard arrives, with a cute lion cartoon assuring me that A1 will 'provide animals with food & fresh water.' By the time the last postcard comes through the door, crying, 'Leonard & Sandy Need You!' and reminding me that the money from A1 'Buys Lion treats,' I am wondering whether the folks from the Oakland Zoo inhabit an alternate universe. I can’t imagine how the Zoo could afford this expensive mail campaign when they are so financially strapped that they need a parcel tax to fund basics such as food, fresh water, and plumbing repair."
The question on the ballot:
|MEASURE A1: "To maintain/upgrade humane animal care and basic needs (food, medical, heating, cooling, safe enclosures); retain veterinarians/animal specialists; care for wounded/endangered animals; support wildlife conservation; maintain children's educational, nature/science programs, field trips; and keep entrance fees affordable; shall Alameda County levy a tax of $12/parcel annually for residential parcels and comparable commercial/industrial rates, with low-income senior exemptions, mandatory audits, and citizens' oversight?"|
Campaign finance violations
The East Bay Express published an investigative report on October 18 which said, "The private operators of the Oakland Zoo have broken several campaign finance laws in their effort to convince county voters to pass a parcel tax on November 6, the Express has learned. Public records also indicate that the East Bay Zoological Society, the private nonprofit that has an exclusive contract with the City of Oakland to run the zoo, appears to have used taxpayer funds to help promote it’s ballot initiative, Measure A1, in violation of local and state election laws."
The Oakland City Attorney ordered zoo officials remove a number of pro-Measure A1 signs from zoo property. Zoo property belongs to the public, and therefore cannot be used as a location for electioneering signs.
- East Bay Citizen, "Special Tax for Oakland Zoo Heading to Ballot", July 24, 2012
- Mercury News, "Battle rages over Oakland Zoo parcel tax measure", October 29, 2012
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- San Francisco Chronicle, "Oakland Zoo receives $1 million donation", December 23, 2012
- List of endorsers of Measure A1
- Arguments in favor of Measure A1 from the "Its Your Zoo" website
- East Bay Express, "Oakland Zoo Operators Violate Election Laws", October 18, 2012
- East Bay Express, "Vote Kaplan and Yes on Measures B1 and S and Props 34 and 37 ", October 10, 2012
- Oakland Tribune, "Oakland Tribune editorial: No on Measures A1 and U and yes on Measure V", October 31, 2012
- Website of "Save Knowland Park"
- Berkeley Daily Planet, "Zoo Executives’ Backroom Deals on Measure A1", October 31, 2012
- Berkeley Daily Planet, "Vote NO on Measure A1? How could I ask you to vote against Animal Care?", October 29, 2012
- Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.