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Zoo You Care?

Posted by Rick · October 8th, 2004 · 5 Comments

Perhaps it needed an issue like this for me to understand Bob Marcotte’s claim that the Left spins as much as the Right, that they’re both playing “the Same Game.”

And so it is that Community Alliance’s monthly rag spearheads the anti-zoo campaign with an article — portions of which can be found at Indymedia — that subtly spins reality to say that the “corporate-funded campaign” supporting the Chaffee Zoo destroys an important element of our community.

(Incidentally, don’t try to visit the Community Alliance website unless you’re using one of the big corporated-backed web browsers like Internet Explorer. Their site isn’t viewable by us users of Firefox, for instance.)

In taking what’s been said against Measure Z and making sure it’s Unspun™, I called the American Zoo and Aquarium Association to talk about their accreditation program. I talked with zoo administrators about the value of accreditation. I also spoke with Dr. Kulpa-Eddy of the United States Department of Agriculture Animal Care Department in Washington, D.C.; the Office of the Controller (the money people) for San Francisco; San Francisco’s Recreation and Parks Department — don’t dare try any of the close to 20 phone numbers for their Zoo; unlike the Chaffee Zoo, no one in San Francisco will answer — and I spoke Christina Simmons, Public Relations Manager at the San Diego Zoo. I also called the Bronx Zoo, but somehow got the IT guy, who was only in his third day and couldn’t figure out where to send me. No one at the Sacramento Zoo could answer questions, but I think after my fifth try, Heather the Operator had an idea where she wanted me to go. 😉

You’ve Been Tricked!

Among other things, the Community Alliance article notes that you’re all being tricked, lied to, deceived. The funding to save the Chaffee Zoo, we’re told, isn’t really intended to save the zoo!

The existing 18-acre zoo is slated to receive only one percent of that money — $600,000 — toward the $3 million to $5 million backlog in maintenance work that supporters claim is needed to “save” the zoo. Kevin Hall, Save Roeding Park: Tax Measure’s Zoo Expansion Will Destroy Inner City Treasure, Community Alliance (October 2004) pp. 10-11.

At first blush, this comment might outrage you. How dare they! How dare those corporate interests trick us like this! We thought Measure Z was supposed to save our zoo!

Before the Alliance fully assimilates you, let’s consider something here. Suppose you live in a run-down house. I don’t know: Maybe you’re on the outskirts of the much-loved Tower District instead of right at its heart where the beautiful people might have gotten behind you long before things got bad. At any rate, it’s been awhile since anyone was able to afford repairs. On top of that, your house was built a looooong time ago. It doesn’t have any of those new-fangled gadgets that new houses have, like, maybe a closet that can store more than one shirt, or a “master bedroom” large enough so you don’t accidentally roll out of bed and fall in the toilet. Fortunately for you, on hearing that you’re about to be evicted, a group of benevolent neighbors starts a campaign to save your house.

Before you know it, there are posters everywhere. “Hey! Nosey and Nettie are about to be evicted from their house! For one penny out of every $10 you spend, you can save their house!” And a lot of people get behind this because — sure, you’re not really famous enough for FresnoFamous to support you — but you’re relatively well-liked.

Now while one of Fresno’s leading business people, who likes to support the community, gets behind funding the campaign to pay for the posters, tell people about your plight and save your house, another group has already done some planning. But something isn’t quite right. Seems like the planning committee screwed up! Instead of offering to re-paint the master bedroom and put a railing on your bed so you won’t roll into the toilet, they decide that only a smaller amount of money will go towards making your existing house livable. Instead of dumping all the money into your shack, they decide that right nearby, they’re going to build you a brand-new house! The new house will include a bigger closet; you might even be able to turn around in it! The toilet will be moved away from your bed, because the master bedroom will be enlarged! Whoa! Imagine that.

Before long, one of your neighbors — maybe they even live nearby; maybe they’re even in the Tower District — gets wind of the plans.

“Cheaters! Thieves! Deceivers!” they begin to yell. “This isn’t what it seems! They’re planning to give Nosey and Nettie a new house! And you know that huge open area near them where I like to hang out (not really, but it helps me stir you up), they’re going to use part of that! That’s where most of the money will go!”

Terrible, isn’t it? I mean, here you are, just quietly trying to live in your shack. Sometimes you live in it, while your wife stands outside; occasionally, you trade places. Each of you listens for the inevitable splash, as the other falls asleep, rolls off the bed and falls into the toilet. And your neighbor is getting people stirred up because a businessman helped fund some ads to get people to give a penny out of every ten dollars to build you a bigger and better house instead of buying you a new toaster (which wouldn’t fit into your tiny combination kitchen-living room-backyard anyway). Oy!

The fact of the matter, folks, is that while Doc Chaffee did a great thing building up the zoo, it’s still a little closer to the collection of cages it was when he took over than to a modern zoo — like the sort Sour Grapes admires in San Diego and New York. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to dump millions of dollars into shining up the mesh around existing box-like cages when biologists have learned so much about making animals more comfortable in more-realistic cages.

Corporate Schmorporate

Kevin Hall’s interestingly twisted insight into the genesis and meaning of the Chaffee Zoo plan is nothing short of a paean to the ignorance of the easily-riled left-wingnuts of America. He wants you to think that you’re being hoodwinked by “the corporate-funded campaign.” You know which corporations he’s talking about — the tens of thousands of them with their “Save The Zoo” signs outside their places of business. What’s that? Houses, you say? Ordinary people living there, you say? Those are residential buildings filled with citizens who support the zoo? Oy! Are you blind!

Apparently, Community Alliance never takes money from corporations or business people. All their funding — now and forever — comes from street people and the non-bourgeoisie. If someone, oh, like maybe a doctor, a lawyer, or some other business person, were to try to give them money, they would immediately question their motives, take the money and throw it back in their faces. Well, okay; maybe they’ll just take the money and question their motives.

At any rate, anyone who’s read my writing long enough knows I’m no fan of Corporations. I’ve frequently argued that blindness to corporate power will potentially lead us back to the serfdom of the Dark Ages. Yet the fact that local business people sometimes support public interests seems to me something we should laud, not lambast. The picture Kevin Hall presents is that, apparently, the CEOs of corporations only support Bad Things™. If they try to support a good thing — well, then it’s automagically a Bad Thing™. Only poor people and Marxist activists are allowed to support Good Things™.

The Perils of Privatization

Kevin Hall notes that,

One of the proudest claims made by Measure Z’s backers is that they will “privatize” the zoo and that taxpayer dollars will “not go to government!” But this is not privatization of the zoo. Privatization means a corporation bids to provide a government service and pays the government agency a share of the profits. Instead, this is taxpayer-funded private government. Hall, supra, at p. 11.

Well, Kevin’s almost right. Certainly one definition of privatization is exactly the way he defined it. But privatization means a lot of things.

Privatization runs a very broad range, sometimes leaving very little government involvement, and other times creating partnerships between government and private service providers where government is still the dominant player. Privatization.org, “What is Privatization?” (2004) Reason Public Policy Institute.

The goal of privatization is the eventual displacement of governmental administration, funding and maintenance of a service or facility with private administration, funding and maintenance. But privatization isn’t likely to happen overnight. Many attempts at privatization involve an orderly transition from one model to the other. After all, among other things, we don’t want the government to dump the zoo on a group that might prove unable to run it! It is a public trust!

The type of transfer Fresno is looking at isn’t unusual. The City of San Francisco did not transfer significant management of their zoo until the mid 1990s. According to Rose Dennis, with San Francisco’s Recreation and Parks Department, the city is still very much in the mix. Among other entanglements, there’s a joint team on which seven unelected, that is, appointed commissioners — like the ones Kevin Hall is worried about us having in Fresno — sit and which makes decisions about zoo operations.

The City is still very much involved in the funding aspects of the Zoo, also, according to Ms. Dennis. Among other things, the San Francisco Zoo at one point was in dire trouble, until voters there authorized bond measures that support approximately thirty-eight capital projects, including an expensive new lemur exhibit. Although San Francisco started the process of privatization a long time ago, to this day their MOU, or Mutual Operations Understanding, Ms. Dennis says, is “complicated.”

The Fresno plan was designed with an eye on things like this. According to zoo administrator Shelly Morrrison, they’ve looked at how other zoos have privatized and attempted to see what works and what doesn’t. The idea is to learn from others’ mistakes. At the same time, because it draws on plans implemented by other zoos, it’s not unique or sneakily underhanded.

Incidentally, the San Francisco Zoo was largely built up in the 1930s by a government program — the depression-era Works Progress Administration created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt — at a cost of $3.5 million dollars. That’s $3.5 million 1930 dollars, folks! Today, that would be like spending $38.5 million! In the midst of the Great Depression!

And that was just to build the San Francisco Zoo as it looked in the 1930s, which is nothing like it is today. Hmmmmm…. What could the Chaffee Zoo look like in 10 years?

In the interest of fair reporting, by the way, I should note that the San Diego Zoo appears to be an anomaly. They only receive about five million dollars per year from the city. With an operating budget of around $150 million, that’s not much. But San Diego has had magnificent corporate benefactors. Still, that $5 million per year from the City of San Diego is more than the Chaffee Zoo has ever gotten. (According to Jean Chaffee, the City of Fresno gives the Chaffee Zoo about $1.2 million/year.)

Meanwhile, ticket fees in Fresno are significantly lower than other zoos. The San Diego Zoo charges $21 for adults and $14 for children (admission only). The San Francisco Zoo charges $4 for kids under 11, $7 for kids 12-17, $10 for adults and $7 for adults over sixty-five. By comparison, Chaffee Zoo charges $7 for adults, $3.50 for children and $3.50 for adults over sixty-two.

Land, Land, Everywhere…and Not a Drop to Drink

Opponents such as Kevin Hall complain that growing the zoo will use more of the land currently dedicated to Roeding Park. It’s difficult to argue with this. He’s right. Zoo Administrator Shelly Morrison says, however, that “it’s absolutely false” that the zoo wants to take over the entire park.

The Chaffee Zoo is currently approximately 17 acres in size. Once the expansion plans for the zoo are completed, it will consume another 17 to 18 acres of Roeding Park’s 159 acres, for a total of 22% of the Roeding Park. That’s right. Twenty-two percent, or about one-fifth of the park. The Measure Z campaign committee has recommended the zoo’s growth be capped at 25%.

Twenty-two percent of park used for the zoo is not going to destroy the park. According to Ms. Morrison, the zoo is looking to expand in “the least used areas of the park.” She notes that those areas contain “no picnic areas or shelters; no arbors.”

Meanwhile, FresnoFamous opines that “the Chaffee Zoo will never be a world-class organization on the order of the San Diego Zoo or the Bronx Zoo.” Talk about wanting to have your animal crackers and eat them, too! Neither the San Diego Zoo nor the Bronx Zoo sprang into existence overnight. And the existence of the Chaffee Zoo, under the leadership of “Doc” Chaffee, has had world-class impact.

During his term as President, the issue of roadside zoos and exotic wildlife auctions was discussed with the recommendation that AZA zoos not dispose of their surplus animals to these facilities, exhibit standards were considered as was a standardized breeding loan agreement, consideration was given to publishing a zoo journal (but no action was taken), an animal contingency plan (in case of natural disasters and emergencies) was discussed, and the AZA Conservation Office opened in Apple Valley, Minnesota (1981). R. Marlin Perkins Award Recipient: 1990, Paul S. Chaffee, DVM, The American Zoo and Aquarium Association

In the sense of having an impact on the way zoos operate, the work “Doc” started on these programs — and working to help bring the enjoyment of zoos to the blind — was just the start. With more land and a larger facility, it could one day rival the San Diego or Bronx Zoo in importance and size.

Under FresnoFamous’ way of thinking, they might as well shut down right now — after all, I doubt they’re going to ever be in the same league as Entertainment Weekly, or even Pop Matters. (As long as you don’t shut down, though, I’ll still read you!)

Accreditation: Who Needs It?, or “Has Anybody Seen My Elephant?”

Another “lie” Kevin Hall thinks is being pushed on the public is that the Chaffee Zoo will lose it’s big animals if it loses accreditation. He quotes Ron Gentzler, a local veterinarian, as saying you don’t have to have AZA accreditation to have large animals. Kevin Hall says the lie that we will lose our big animals is being used to scare people.

Dr. Kulpa-Eddy of the United States Department of Agriculture notes that the USDA regulations for exhibitors — of which there are over 2100 in the United States — are very minimal. Essentially, the class “C” license required to exhibit warm-blooded animals is not a certification. It just shows that exhibitors are meeting the minimal standards — kind of like the pound — so that animals are not actually physically suffering. So, technically, if the Chaffee Zoo could get them, they could keep big animals without more than a USDA license.

But, in fact, both she and Jane Valentine, Public Affairs Director for the American Zoo and Aquarium Association note that losing animals is a distinct possibility. Ms. Valentine says that because the USDA license only sets minimum standards, zoos take accreditation quite seriously and those zoos which have loaned animals to other zoos may withdraw them if accreditation is lost. Shelly Morrison notes that several animals at the Chaffee Zoo are there as part of an AZA program called the Species Survival Plan, or SSP. If accreditation is lost, the zoo will no longer be eligible to participate in the SSP and these animals could very well be lost.

But are they big animals? It depends on whether you think an elephant is a big animal. What about a giraffe? Indochinese tigers? These are some of the nineteen animals currently at the Chaffee Zoo as part of the AZA’s SSP program. Others include chimpanzees, orangutans, colubus monkeys, red wolves, keelbill toucans, addax, the fennec fox, siamang gibbons, guenons, ring-tailed lemurs, red-ruffed lemurs, the oryx, condor and vulture, a rattlesnake and radiated tortoise.

There are other benefits to AZA accreditation, as well, some of which affect not just the zoo, but the general public directly. Since the zoo itself is accredited, employees of the zoo can have voting memberships in the AZA, participate in other AZA programs and the zoo can enter into reciprocity agreements with other zoos. So, the Chaffee Zoo might not be “a world-class institution on the order of the San Diego Zoo or the Bronx Zoo,” but we can work with them by virtue of being AZA-accredited.

Additionally, Ms. Morrison notes that without AZA accreditation, “The quality of management you can hire is drastically reduced.” AZA programs themselves are of educational value to zoo staff who are interested in continuing to improve their own skills and knowledge. Professional staff already at the zoo may move to zoos that are AZA-accredited.

The public loses out as well. Besides the generalized consequences to the zoo noted above, people who buy $50 memberships from the zoo get reciprocal rights from other AZA-accredited zoos. For example, a family of two adults and four children can, for that $50 membership, also gets free admission to other AZA-accredited zoos, like the San Francisco Zoo.

To make matters worse, the loss of accreditation can impact the zoo financially. Some grant programs and donors, for example, will partly look to a zoo’s accreditation status when deciding whether to give grant money or donations. For the Chaffee Zoo, already suffering financially, any such loss would be painful.

The Bottom Line

When all is said and done, though, the bottom line isn’t always “the bottom line,” if you catch my drift. The Chaffee Zoo is visited by more than a half-million people per year at rates that are currently significantly less than those paid by visitors to other zoos — and it’s right here in Fresno! The amount of space required — one-fifth of Roeding Park — will double the size of the zoo, with the land taken from the least-used parts of the park. Folks having their reunions in the park will now have the added capability of visiting a world-class zoo.

And what’s all that going to cost? About one penny for every ten dollars that you spend. And that money will not, as even Kevin Hall notes, “go to the government.” By earmarking that money so it can only be spent by the zoo, we guarantee the politicos keep their greedy little paws off of it.

So after Measure Z passes, you can smile knowing that the hundred bucks you just spent on groceries landed an entire dime in the hands of the zoo.

Think about it.

Categories: Fresno-Clovis

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5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Bob // Oct 8, 2004 at 5:08 pm

    The fundamental question is this: do you want to see Fresno the city or Fresno the punchline?

    (I do a significant amount of travel around California for business and recreation, and everytime I tell someone I’m from Fresno I see the smirk. You have seen the one, where a snide comment is on the tip of their tougue but they’re too polite to say it.)

    If you close the zoo, then what? Just what takes its place in either cultural or educational terms? Aren’t we less without this resource?

    We will never be LA or San Francisco but why do we have to be a barren landmark on 99?

    Who says we can’t make Fresno into a livable, comfortable place to live?

    Why can’t we have a quality zoo? Why does it have to be world class? Isn’t a high quality educational resource enough? Our art museums are not world class, do we close them?

    And as far as that park is concerned, is it really worthy of such preservation? Are green areas that hard to find in Fresno? Hint: go north on 41, you’ll bump into a really big park.

    Look, we’re looking at Fresno turning into one giant Riverpark or we can keep unique identity in neighborhoods. I say we build up the zoo to encourage revitalization in the old areas of Fresno instead of watching that many square feet of grass grow. We don’t need more park, we need more culture and education.

  • 2 Sean // Oct 10, 2004 at 12:54 am

    I don’t know: Maybe you’re on the outskirts of the much-loved Tower District instead of right at its heart where the beautiful people might have gotten behind you long before things got bad.


    Yeah, maybe

    I can’t believe people are actually attacking Measure Z. (I just heard about it tonight, courtesy of a moment in catching an ABC 30 blurb; “google done the rest”)

    Roeding Park — crypes, I wish they’d just fix up the railroad engine on the site (on the south end of the zoo, just behind the Chaffee Zoo’s rainforest exhibit). Last time I was by there, that piece of Fresno history looked like a neglected mess. (I’m afraid that it might not be alone there, incidentally.)

    As for the potential of beneifts for the zoo — heck yes! They want to add a 0.1 cent tax for it, then manage the paperwork, take care of making sure that the funding gets to the zoo, and why the heck would the zoo go wrong with it?

    (As for the Community Alliance web site … it does work in Konqueror, which is wholly “free”, open source software, incidentally — part of KDE and, reportedly, the basis of the Apple “Safari” browser. Still, I fail to understand why the web folks, there, thought as if they’d need to use Java applets for their simple site-navigation banners — their “mouseover” “fun” could be done with simple JavaScript, no Java loading required — but, “what the heck.” )

    I hope you’ll pardon my own spin, now; maybe the following parody, in one line, will be worth it.

    WANTED: Something to raise a shout about; no objective reasoning required.

    “FWIW”, that page 10 of 2004 Community Alliance, October issue, leaves me even more impressed with what the Zoo would be able to do after Measure Z. A new entrance to the park, for one, should be great. (The northwest corner of the park has been, also, looking really neglected — mostly, on the outside of it — left to “just sit there”, years after the trolleys were gone.)

    Beside a new entrance, a general “image improvement” for the park might be an even better deal — or am I the only one who thinks that this part of Fresno looks about like a neglected mess?

    Granted, a shallow effort at “gentrification” would probably not be a solution to that. I figure that there probably is a solution to it, though — and that impulsive, reactionary citizens are probably not anyhow likely to find it.

    “My 2¢, I guess”

    “It ain’t my bag”, really.

    Beside that — dude, a blog reckoning from out from Clovis, “where they removed the olive orchards and put in a housing-plot called The Orchards, but at least it still looks like a nice place to be” — well, heck, even from a spot in Fresno, it’s like a nice line back from home. seriously.

    “For what it’s worth” — way off topic but heck: From what I’ve seen of it, Auberry road may serve as a better route to take to Millerton than Friant Road, and it may be better, to Shaver, than taking 168 all the way — Auberry, before the intersection at Millerton/Friant Road and the nice shop, there, is generally, somewhat hillier, curvier, but lighter in traffic, and very much prettier — year-round, probably. (If I recall it correctly, Auberry Road branches-out north from Copper — just a bit west of where Minewawa meets Copper, on the south side of it, and well east of where Willow goes through Copper.)

    It’s not a bad scenic route, by car or by bike, either. (It’s kind of a haul, by bike — doable, though, given enough stamina, water, force of will, and time for it. Millerton makes a nice end-point, then — and some crackers are decent as something for some substance, after taking a break at a bench around Millerton. Friant Road works for the return route, then — it’s straight and dry, but just a passing deal, on the way back to one’s ole homestead place.)

    So it was, “circa 1995” anyway — and it’s probably still so, but heck if I know what can change in a Friant area, given a decade for it, and any drive from “developers”.

    heck if I can end this on “developers”.

    heck if I can understand why this area would be suddenly popular, either, except for any influx of “refugees from Los Angeles”? — and all those Clovis-country orchards, “just waiting to have housing-plots squeezed in on ’em”? So, I wonder about it, I suppose. I might even marvel at it, supposing how much the developers stand to make, given X many housing plots squeezed into Y many acres, and I suppose that the city might derive some higher income from land taxes, for it, while the people … learn to live … right side-by-narrow-side, right in-that-prefab-estate … getting by, I guess, and owning a home, being the points of it, and while the developers serve to gain yet more money, for rates on larger land-plots.

    So, I may ever worry, quietly, about Clovis ever becoming a suburb of Fresno, and/or Fresno ever becoming a clone of Los Angeles — no excess of suspicion intended, ableit.

    and heck, here’s just a place where I was able to mention it. pardon the off-topic-ness.

    “Fresno just seems farther from Clovis than what I might exactly like, sometimes.”

    So, here’s a corner of my own and some joe, whimpering about “the states of things”, momentarily occupying it.

    Such rambling aside, good evening, out from some neck of the ole valley steppe with the sky above.

  • 3 Rick Horowitz // Oct 10, 2004 at 6:30 pm

    Anyone who has read this website for any length of time knows that I have never before — even with Nat Dawson — blocked a post except those that advertise things.

    But (in the interest of openness), I want to let you know that I did block a post tonight.

    Some very, very, very brave soul posted something here under the name of “joe@joe.net” — I have absolutely no doubt that this is “Joe’s” real address, do you? — and the post was nothing but a piece of slander against someone connected with the Zoo.

    And so, since the cowardly and ignorant waste of biological material who posted the comment not only didn’t connect their comment to the post, but used the opportunity to anonymously slander someone, I decided to break my longstanding rule: the post was deleted.


    Now, if the poster of that comment decides they want to have the guts to stand behind their comment, I’ll be happy to allow them the same opportunity everyone else gets to post what they think. But a two-line slanderous statement from someone too afraid to even put their name to the comment will never see the light of day on this blog.

  • 4 Mark King // Oct 10, 2004 at 10:53 pm


    You did the right thing. This blog (and other forums) have suffered too much already from cowards who don’t have the guts (or apparenlty the sincere belief in what they have to say) to put their names on their postings.

    Frankly, some bantering back and forth on politics can be fun, even if putting one particular person who used to post here in his place was so easy that it bordered on becoming boring. But an interchange with a phony is really no interchange at all.

    Kudos to Rick!

  • 5 Last Minute Voting Advice // Sep 17, 2008 at 8:54 am

    […] written about this in a couple of other places. If you need to see the arguments, look at Zoo You Care? and my wife’s article about “Doc” Chaffee’s comment on things we […]

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