Defense of Place is honored to lend its voice to the Save Knowland Park Coalition campaign to halt a project by the Oakland (California) Zoo that would obliterate irreplaceable and rare native grassland, plants, and fragile wildlife habitats within the 500-acre park.
Using a bait and switch strategy to bypass provisions of a 1998 Master Plan – and in betrayal of the original State-mandated purpose of the parkland – the City of Oakland and the Zoo have proposed an expansion that will besiege 52 acres of Knowland Park. The ever-shifting plans now include a 34,000 square-foot building that tops a ridgeline; an aerial gondola with 30-foot towers; animal exhibits in simulated “natural” settings; and, a chain link fence around the development that would symbolize the end of the Park’s wild, natural and open space.
“The Zoo calls the development a conservation exhibit,” said Laura Baker of the Friends of Knowland Park, “but it’s a naked land grab that destroys top-quality habitat. The cruel irony is that the public has been duped about what it’s getting in the expansion. Once the theme park goes up, the public will have to pay to access to areas they can now enjoy for free.”
Coalition leader Ruth Malone adds: “In the 21st century, it just doesn’t pass the laugh test for a city to take its finest wildland park, pave it over, and call it conservation.”
The inflated building plans would result in a multi-story building in the heart of the Park that would be more an administrative facility (featuring incomparable views of San Francisco Bay) than the Zoo-described “interpretive center.”
After attempts to mediate on the project’s size and scope failed, the Friends of Knowland Park and the California Native Plant Society sued the Zoo and the city for violations of the California Environmental Quality Act and State Planning and Zoning Laws. Hearings continue in April on the issue in Alameda County Superior Court.
However, Zoo officials are not waiting for final adjudication. Instead, they have already marked their “territory” among native heritage oaks and rare stands of maritime chaparral by spray painting the trees slated for clear-cutting for the administration building and by placing stakes that mark the gondola’s towers and terminal.
Along with dismay over the unthinkable loss of Knowland Park’s unique natural resources, Defense of Place laments the Zoo’s flouting of the public trust principle which obligates institutions and municipalities to preserve and protect public lands.
Visit the Save Knowland Park web site for visual gifts of the Park’s beauty along with the history and current news on the fight to preserve the parkland.