Measure Y is another money grab by the Conservation Society of California (Society), a private non-profit that runs the Oakland Zoo. The measure would impose a $68 per year parcel tax on homeowners and other property owners in Oakland. The City Auditor estimates the tax would generate about $14 million annually. The proposal also allows for an annual cost of living increase, and the tax would be in effect for 20 years. With increases the measure would raise over $300 million over the 20 years. The measure also prohibits reducing the generous funding the City already provides. The Society’s 2021 Final Audit Report shows the organization receiving almost $2 million in government funding; the City and East Bay Regional Park District were the sources of this funding with most from the City. This represented almost 10 percent of the Society’s total revenue for the year. If you were to add the $14 million from Measure Y to the $2 million of existing funding, bring total revenue to $36 million the taxpayers of Oakland will be providing almost 40 percent of annual revenue to the Society. The tax would represent an over 700 percent increase in City funds going to the Society.
Only 15 Percent of Zoo Visitors are Oakland Resident
The Society is asking Oakland residents to subsidize visitors who are not residents of Oakland. Even worse, an annual membership allowing an individual unlimited access to the Zoo with free parking is $99. According to the Society proposal, individual Oakland residents will get nothing for their $68, and still have to contribute to the Zoo through the City’s General Fund on top of the new parcel tax. Oakland residents should not be forced to subsidize visitors to the Zoo. The Society is a private entity who has the resources to raise the money to support the Zoo without any City support. People from Walnut Creek and Pleasanton need to pay their fair share for Zoo costs, and this proposal subsidizes non-Oakland visitors to the Zoo at the expense of Oakland residents.
The Society Has a Budget Surplus
According to the Society’s own 2021 Final Audit Report, as of September 30, 2021 they had $16.6 million in cash. In 2020 the Society had a net increase in cash of $4.75 million and in 2021 nearly $5 million in cash was added. It is unconscionable for the Society to be asking the residents of the City for money when they have added nearly $10 million in cash to their accounts in the last two years.
The Society has a History of Not Honoring Agreements
In 2014 the City Council voted to give the Society 53 acres of Knowland Park property for the purpose of implementing a conservation easement for the benefit of local wildlife, specifically the Alameda whipsnake which is a threatened species. The easement was a requirement for the expansion of the Zoo footprint further into Knowland Park and was the key mitigation for the impacts of the project. Normally a developer would have to pay for such lands, but the Society paid nothing, except the promise to complete the implementation of the easement, along with funding the endowment to guarantee the costs of long-term management of the lands. The MMRP for the Zoo expansion required the conservation easement preserve habitat in perpetuity “prior to issuance of a construction-related permit in the affected area.” The entire Zoo expansion was built in violation of the terms of approval for the project. The Society also has a history of not providing reports required by agreements with government organizations. The Society’s agreement with the City requires annual reports of the use of City funds, and those have not been regularly produced. The Incidental Take Permit issued by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife for the Zoo expansion requires annual reports. Those reports have not been timely produced.
The Society Spends More on Advertising, than Education and Conservation Combined
Their 2021 financial statement shows the Society is spending almost $2 million per year on marketing, public relations and fund development promoting the Zoo. The number is likely higher because portions of the administrative costs are likely going to these purposes. The financial statement shows about $1.6 million spent on education. The Conservation Society of California does not have a line item in its financial statement for conservation, suggesting conservation is an inconsequential part of their mission.
The Ballot Analyses by the City Attorney and City Auditor are Incomplete
Neither the Measure Y by the City Auditor or the City Attorney mentions the provision in the measure prohibiting the reduction in current City funding to the Society. The Auditor did not look at the current financial statement for the Society and explain that the organization is far from having financial difficulties. With the current economic situation it is likely many Oakland residents, as well as the City, will be having significant financial problems to deal with in the near future; why should Oakland bear the cost alone, when so few of our residents actually use the Zoo.
What is the Money Really For?
The only reason the Society could need this much funding is not for current needs, because they are running a healthy financial surplus. The only reason for needing over $300 million over the next 20 years is to further expand the Zoo. This could also explain the failure to implement the conservation easement, which was the key mitigation measure for the Zoo expansion. Once that land is dedicated to a conservation easement it can not be developed. The Society is being dishonest in not revealing their future plans.
The Tax is Highly Regressive
This is a highly regressive tax that will most impact those least able to afford it. Multi-million dollar homes in the hills will pay no more than those in the flatlands. The 85 percent of Zoo visitors living outside of Oakland who would benefit from the proposed tax will pay nothing. It is time for those non-resident Zoo visitors, who benefit from the City’s long time largesse, to pay their fair share.
Vote No on Measure Y!
Conservation Society Financial Statements: https://www.oaklandzoo.org/financials