Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Oakland Zoo Expansion Opponents File New Legal Appeal

By Nate Seltenrich
Wed, Dec 14, 2011 at 9:00 AM

If you thought the Oakland Zoo had cleared the legal and environmental hurdles impeding its controversial expansion, you were mistaken. As you may remember from our first story on the conflict, opponents (including both neighbors and members of regional environmental groups) have argued since February, when the zoo released its mitigated negative declaration report, that the project's environmental impacts were unacceptable and illegally accounted for under the California Environmental Quality Act.

After the Oakland City Council approved the project anyway in June, opponents Friends of Knowland Park and the East Bay Chapter of the California Native Plant Society filed suit.

In hopes of settling outside of court, the two sides soon sat down at a mediation table, said Laura Baker of CNPS, but the two-month process was a failure. "We ended up further apart than we were when we went in. ... It was a bitterly disappointing process for us."

So the plantiffs decided to return to court to argue their case. Last week, the two organizations announced that they had amended their initial legal appeal to include a charge that the city approved the fifty-plus-acre project in violation of the Seismic Hazards Mapping Act. As their press release explains, "Under the Act, a geotechnical report is required to be prepared and submitted to the state prior to approval of a project located in a mapped seismic hazard zone. While this issue was raised in public comments ... the City Council approved the project without it."

The Hayward Fault is active through Knowland Park, and the proposed zoo expansion includes an interpretive center, gift shop, restaurant, and office complex within a seismic hazard zone. Parts of the project are located only 750 feet from the fault. Yet according to Baker the city did not account for this as required by state law. "There is a clear indication that they goofed," she said.

Construction of the zoo's new veterinary center is currently under way, as is a small amount of road work throughout the site. The plaintiff's suit to date has not had any apparent impact on the work schedule. Hearings on the case are scheduled to begin in January.

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