City council considers hotly debated Oakland Zoo expansion plan

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On Tuesday night in Oakland the city council will pick up the controversial plan to expand the Oakland Zoo into a large open space.

Tuesday night the Oakland City Council will consider a controversial plan to expand the Oakland Zoo. The zoo wants to develop new exhibits in nearby Knowland Park, which is a large open space.

Environmentalists and neighbors have been fighting the project for years, saying it would lead to the loss of critical habitats.

The group the Friends of Knowland Park protested outside Oakland City Hall before the meeting and attended the meeting. The zoo's plans have been a contentious issue for 17 years in the city. At the meeting, there could be a final vote on this issue.

Knowland Park in the Oakland Hills is peaceful in appearance, only. If words and will could rip a place apart this might be one of them.

"It is wild. It belongs to the city and the people of Oakland," Friends of Knowland Park member Thelda King said.

"Well it is all a matter of what is best for the entire community," Oakland Zoo CEO Dr. Joel Parrot, DVM, said.

That's why there was a noisy demonstration outside Oakland City Hall Tuesday, to be followed by a debate. And it's all over a 17-year-plan by the Oakland Zoo to expand into a Knowland Park ridge. It has previous council approval and $60 million at the ready. It also has opposition from the Friends of Knowland Park and among them is King who regards the plan as open space robbery.

"This is the crown jewel of this park. Why should we destroy it?" King said.

To hear Parrot tell it, the word destroy should be replaced by enhance. He said, "People who oppose it just are not willing to share, they're not willing to share the open ridge view experience."

That experience would include a gondola. The new gondola would go at the zoo and go up 1,800 feet, up two ridges, to the California trails exhibit. It would be 45 fenced off acres.

"Animals that are not even here anymore, but it's on our state flag, so that's the Grizzly bear, jaguar, and the American bison," Parrot said.

"Everything they want can be expanded and used on their existing footprint," King said.

The zoo's latest roadblock is the endangered Alameda whipsnake, which also lives on that land. At the Oakland City Council meeting, they will vote for or against a whipsnake habitat easement that would allow the zoo project to continue.

"To think that there are still people that are trying to stop the project on a technicality is disappointing, but I think what it has done is it has brought to the entire community the chance to talk about it," Parrot said.

Oh, they're talking, alright... 17 years' worth and no matter what the outcome of this vote, the debate will likely to continue.

"We will evaluate our options and we will not give this up," King said.
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