Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Neighbors and Environmentalists to Appeal Zoo Approval

By Nate Seltenrich
Wed, May 4, 2011 at 10:05 AM

Last week, after a prolonged and often heated discussion about the future of the Oakland Zoo and the details of its expansion into upper Knowland Park, the City Planning Commission gave the zoo's amended plan the rubber stamp. But critics of the plan, who say that the full environmental impacts of the 56-acre expansion have not been properly studied, aren't ready to give up yet. Thomas DeBoni of Friends of Knowland Park, the community organization on the battle's front lines, said that his group and the California Native Plant Society have banded together in pursuing a formal appeal to city council, where the zoo's application heads for its next and possibly final step.

"We're putting together the set of supporting documents that we already have that have not been addressed sufficiently by staff responses," DeBoni said. "We're going to carry the matter forward and make our arguments to a different audience." The thrust of the coalition's position is not that the zoo should not expand, but that according to the California Environmental Quality Act the project must be accompanied by an environmental impact report. It is currently supported by a less strenuous document known as a mitigated negative declaration, which argues that after certain measures are taken, the project's construction and ultimate installation will have no negative impacts on the environment.

"It's not hard to find holes in that 1,300 pages if you spend time looking at it, and we have," DeBoni said. "It's surprising the number of people who have referred to it as a scientific study, when it clearly is not. ... This is a property that's once it's developed, it's gone. And the zoo wants the plum heart of it. So we think it makes sense to study the moves that you're gonna make before you make them." The Sierra Club and and California Native Grasslands Association also have submitted comments to the city calling for an environmental impact report.

The City of Oakland is charging Friends of Knowland Park $1,300 to appeal the City Planning Commission's decision. The appeal is due Monday, but the zoo's amended expansion plan may not come before city council until June or July.

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