Defense of Place is honored to lend its voice to the Save Knowland Park Coalition campiagn 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 called the California Trails, a project 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, and wildlife corridor.
The Zoo calls the development a conservation exhibit, but Laura Baker of the Friends of Knowland Park, said, “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 areas they can now enjoy for free.”
Coalition leader Ruth Malone adds, “In the 21st century it just does not pass the laugh test for a city to take its finest wildland park, pave it over, and call it conservation.”
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 in Alameda Superior Court for violations of the California Environmental Quality Act and State Planning ande Zoning laws. Two months ago, Judge Evelio Grillo issued his ruling which held that the Zoo’s current expansion plan is merely a modification of the 1998 Amended Master Plan project.
The friends of Knowland Park, however, are courageously proceeding with their defense of the parkland with varied approaches, including consideration to file an appeal. In addition, the Zoo must satisfy state and federal agencies whose obligations are first and foremost to natural resources and habitats, not to political or institutional ambitions.
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.
As part of our advocacy we submitted a letter to California’s Department of Parks and Recreation that expressed our concern over a $7 million grant awarded last year to the Oakland Zoo for support of the California Trails exhibit. In the letter, Defense of Place noted:
We believe that the Parks and Recreation Department’s grant to the Oakland Zoo should be withdrawn . . .We assume that your Nature Education Facilities Program grants require thorough analyses of any project’s potential consequences, especially with respect to dire impacts on natural resources that would contradict your program’s intent and the potential recipient’s proposals. Accordingly, we are troubled by the Zoo executives’ manipulation of the California Trails project’s objectives and the disregard for their obligation to preserve fragile and irreplaceable parkland.
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 this special place.