San Francisco supervisors approve fundraising plan to host pandas at zoo

ByLena Howland, Tim Johns and Gloria Rodríguez KGO logo
Wednesday, June 12, 2024
SF supervisors approve fundraising plan to host pandas
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved a plan that would allow a number of city departments to solicit private donations to bring pandas.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved a plan on Tuesday that would allow a number of city departments to solicit private donations, specifically for pandas.

Less than two months after signing an agreement with Chinese wildlife officials, the city just cleared the way to allow fundraising to begin.

"We're not using tax dollars, this will all be funded privately," San Francisco Supervisor Joel Engardio said.

Engardio co-sponsored the resolution that will allow for city departments to solicit donations from private entities, even if they do business with the city.

It's something that usually raises ethical concerns.

RELATED: Mayor Breed's plans to bring pandas to San Francisco Zoo hits roadblock

Engardio says it's a critical next step in the process.

"What it means is - we can do the process to start the private fundraising necessary to build the enclosure, do the improvements, fix things at the zoo to make it an appropriate place for pandas," he said.

But not everyone is on board.

A spokesperson for 'In Defense of Animals,' an animal rights group, said the zoo has been mismanaged for years and won't be able to take care of the pandas.

"This place is not safe for animals, it's not safe for zookeepers, it's not safe for the public - it's a financial sinkhole," Fleur Dawes, a spokesperson for In Defense of Animals said.

RELATED: SF Zoo gears up for giant pandas as it plans for multi-million dollar facility

Before Tuesday's Board of Supervisors meeting where someone even dressed up in a panda costume, Dawes spent her morning hand-delivering a petition to San Francisco Supervisors.

The petition had 7,000 signatures signed by people opposing the plan.

"These rules were put in place recently to stop corruption, and now we're saying that those are going to be overturned so what we're seeing is this panda exhibit - if it will be built, will be built on a base of corruption," Dawes said.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed responded to those claims.

"We are responsible for completing a behested payment form," Breed said. "And before we accept any of those resources, the city attorney's office will review any of the requests to ensure that we are in compliance."

RELATED: SF Mayor London Breed addresses economic hope, 'panda diplomacy' after China visit

She hopes this will help strengthen tourist ties with China without having to use taxpayer dollars.

"People want to come to San Francisco and they want an opportunity to have flights that are also affordable with the limited number of flights that exist, it makes it a bit more challenging so we definitely know that this plays into that role," she said.

The city's goal is to raise at least $25 million for a new enclosure and upgrades at the zoo.

Mayor Breed's office says the city and the zoo will now develop and share a fundraising timeline and continue working with Chinese partners on their agreement.

They'll also continue working with the San Diego Zoo's panda research team who are also expecting to receive a set of pandas from China.

Some supervisors had raised questions about whether that could create a conflict of interest for her and they initially postponed a vote on the proposal, asking for changes.

Ultimately, last week the board's Government Audit and Oversight Committee voted unanimously to recommend an amended fundraising plan. It includes an ethics rules waiver and will require more transparency, including a public list of donors.

The San Francisco Zoo released a statement in response to the concerns from activists, which read in part:

"Concerns about our zoo's conditions are unfounded, as we undergo regular inspections by various regulatory bodies. These independent inspections are thorough and encompass aspects such as animal enclosures and exhibit spaces."

If the mayor can get this done, it'll be the first time since 1985 that pandas will be making a home in San Francisco. The pandas would arrive next year.

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