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LA Zoo Expansion is Taking Shape

On Oct 20, 2021

LA Zoo

Did you know the massive Los Angeles Zoo Project is nearing completion of it’s final stages before receiving LA City Council’s approval? Don’t worry, few people do.

Thanks to an article in the LA Times (please note: if you’re not a subscriber, the Times article is posted at the bottom of this blog) from Oct. 20, 2021, more Los Angelenos will be aware of plans to increase the Zoo’s footprint, expanding and encroaching further into the natural Griffith Park acreage.

The zoo’s ambitious “20-year Vision Plan” calls for exhibit upgrades and flashy new tourist attractions, including a 60-foot-deep canyon offering rock climbs and a hilltop Yosemite lodge-style California Center with sweeping views of a 25,000-square-foot vineyard.

But does the zoo need to consume 23 acres of native woodlands? That’s the question dividing defenders of 120 coast live oaks, 60 toyons, 22 Southern California black walnuts, 21 Mexican elderberry trees, and stands of federally and state-listed endangered shrubs in the proposed development zones.

“We are not going to build in a vacuum with no regard for the undeveloped acreage in our zoo,” Denise Verret, zoo director and chief executive said. “At this point, this plan is what we envision.”

“The zoo’s plan is another attempt to squeeze more money out of Griffith Park, a designated L.A. Cultural-Historic Monument,” said Clare Darden, a board member of the Griffith J. Griffith Charitable Trust. “There is no need for another amusement park in L.A. But there is dire need for preserving its increasing rare native ecosystems.”

The Zoo Project Includes:
•  $650 million would be spent on Phases 1-3 of 7 phases, all before the 2028 Olympics
•  Goal of increasing attendance by 66.6%, from the pre-COVID-19 level of 1.8 million to over 3 million visitors per year
•  Creation of two new Visitor Centers with restaurants for more special events and evening venues
•  Addition of a multi-level parking structure in Griffith Park
•  A gondola and a funicular would also be constructed within the Zoo property
•  WORST OF ALL — Destruction of native habitat including 227 City Protected Trees, including native oaks and walnuts

The full Environmental Impact Report (EIR) Index.

Instead of the full project, Friends of Griffith Park supports Alternative 1, the “Environmentally Superior Alternative.” This plan allows natural habitat areas to remain intact. The Zoo can still achieve animal care goals and will continue to be a world-class destination zoo, per the EIR. Alternative 1 reduces impacts by this project — by eliminating a huge special events facility, the “California Visitor Center,” and Alternative 1 rejects the funicular, the planted hillside vineyard, and a rock-climbing wall.

From the Alternative 1 synopsis — “The Reduced Project Alternative would substantially avoid developed within the existing undeveloped areas of the Zoo property where protected trees, native habitats, and other special status plant species are present. Alternative 1 would also generate a smaller increase in visitation, thereby reducing projected vehicle miles traveled and reducing the size of the parking structure or eliminating the need for it entirely. Alternative 1 would reduce impacts to aesthetics, air quality, biological resources, urban forestry, noise, and transportation
when compared to the Project. ”

We all want the very best care for Zoo animals, but this project goes far beyond modernizing the Zoo. The conversion of LA Zoo’s remaining natural habitat areas for amusement-park-like attractions and major event centers is overly ambitious and runs counter to all principles of conservation. Recreational portions of Griffith Park will also suffer from traffic congestion caused by this massive project. Mature trees, birds and other park critters will also suffer the effects.

We urge you to send a note to your Councilmember and also submit your comment to the convenient portal. (All documentation pertaining to the project can be accessed here… Council File 21-0828).
You can also refer to our Friends of Griffith Park letter re: Alternative 1 Option. submitted to the LA City Council on 10.12.2021.

Please support Alternative 1
•  Don’t destroy 23 acres of native habitat, including 227 City-protected trees
•  The full project is counter to City priorities, including the Biodiversity Report and the LA Sustainability Plan
•  The LA Zoo will still benefit from zoo animal care improvements and many visitor amenities if Alternative 1 is implemented

Saturday’s letters to the editor (LA Times 10.23.2021) are very telling in how people view the zoo expansion plans…
And the editorial in Sunday’s LA Times goes even further in their comments.
Re: “They’re not wild about L.A. Zoo plan,” Oct. 20

In an era where the remit of zoos is increasingly questioned and debated, the L.A. Zoo’s plan is tone-deaf and retrograde. A zoo’s sole purpose should be to help rehabilitate and preserve dwindling species and educate the public. The proposal for the zoo to become more like an amusement park — destroying acres of vegetation and mature native trees that are home to many bobcats, mountain lions, hawks and owls in the process — is flat-out wrong. It’s ironic that in its proposed expansion, the zoo will be causing irreparable harm to the animals that live on its perimeter.
Emily Loughran, Los Angeles

As a homeowner in the city of Los Angeles, I must abide by the laws protecting our native trees like the live oak, black walnut and toyon trees. I am not allowed to take them down unless they are determined dead by a certified arborist, and rightly so. What good are environmental laws protecting these native species if the L.A. Zoo, a city-owned facility, is allowed to cast aside these important protections when it suits its “tourist expansion” plans? Too often, government agencies grant to themselves exemptions to the laws they pass, while the rest of us are expected to obey.
Wendy Prober, Tarzana

I have been a member of the L.A. Zoo for several decades and am very much in favor of its research and conservation work and educational programs. I am absolutely apoplectic over the “Disneylandification” proposal, which seems to offer very little for the animals, or even the botanical aspects of the grounds, while at the same time destroying more of the natural surroundings. They may as well go all in and replace the animals with robots. I have serious doubts that this would generate huge revenue from tourists, and many locals would probably encounter a prohibitive hiked admission fee. I will definitely not donate to such a project, and will vote “no” on any possible bond issue.
Barbara Assadi, Los Angeles

more available here…

From NBC News 11.4.2021
From Spectrum News 1 10.30.2021 (interview with Louis Sahagún)
From CityWatch 10.28.2021 (Jack Humphreville) There are other Zoo Vision Plan documents attached to this article

From KCRW 10.27.2021 (short interview with LA Zoo’s Denise Verret and Gerry Hans)
From KPCC Larry Mantle Show 10.21.2021 (interview with Louis Sahagún and Gerry Hans)
From KNX talk radio 10.20.2021

Plus, we’ve posted another way to access the LA Times article for those who encounter the firewall.

Comments

31 Comments

  1. joe fronek

    Contain the zoo. Save the park.
    Joe Fronek

    Reply
  2. Jennifer Lim

    Right now, the city has not shown optimal management of the natural assets of Griffith Park, so why allow them to sink hundreds of millions of dollars more for expanding the zoo with amusement park features that do not contribute towards youth education and public health.
    Case in point is the LA Zoo itself, which only open from 10 am to 5 pm, claiming that the zoo animals go to bed at 4 pm. We can compare the LA Zoo operation with other public attractions such as the LA Arboretum, which opens from 8 am to 7 pm during the summer and has light shows during the fall and winter which generates additional revenue with visual entertainment for the whole family. If there is a gift shop or dining options at the zoo, they are entirely forgettable and do not draw in any visitors at Griffith Park. Another forgettable destination in the park is Travel Town, which mainly draws compliments because it is free.

    There are several bad ideas in the proposed LA Zoo expansion, such as:
    1) Building a Swiss chalet at Griffith Park when its highest peak is only 1821 feet, so there is no natural snow, whereas elsewhere Mount Baldy peak is over 10,000 feet and even Echo Mountain is 3205 feet high, which sees occasional snow during the winter months.
    2) Building an aerial cable car to transport the sedentary visitors the Swiss chalet at the top
    –> will only destroy the skyline and mar the natural beauty of Griffith Park, with no comparison to the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway which ascends 8516 feet over 2.5 miles (which has appreciable value as few Palm Springs visitors can ever accomplish that feat on their own two feet).
    3) hosting a safari park at Griffith Park (right next to downtown LA) — costly, increases traffic congestion and totally against the existing system of preserving the natural eco-system of the park’s current natural inhabitants.

    There are many things that they can do to generate revenue at the park or contribute to the public benefit, but destroying irreplaceable natural beauty by spending tons of money with no appreciable increase in community value is not the way do it.
    1) For example, they can build a Griffith Park Lodge with outdoor dining next to the horse stables at the north end. Tourists and locals can stay there for a weekend getaway. They can offer executive weekend packages for those who want to utilize the golf course and stay at the lodge.
    2) Another thing that they could do is to build some kind of free ground transport system between each key attraction or site at the park. So park visitors could visit the zoo or enjoy outdoor dining (cannot be mediocre as they can drive elsewhere) or visit the museum.
    3) They can build a nature center that holds classes (sustainable cooking, sustainable recycling, painting, etc.) and a gift shop for Griffith Park with creative ideas for soliciting donations for park upkeep.
    4) They can use some of the unused areas of the park to provide athletic field tracks or a nature obstacles course for youth attending under-resourced schools or schools which are lacking athletic facilities for physical education classes.

    Reply
    • Kathryn Louyse

      Thanks for your response to our article about the Zoo expansion

      And in response to your point about hundreds of dollars spent to expand the zoo’s features that don’t contribute to youth education or public health…

      We’ve heard this might become a bond issue in order to fund some of the items on the zoo’s “wish list.” So this could get very interesting.

      The hours… currently (according to your point) the hours are 10-5 so animals can rest at night. However, the zoo expansion would include venues with expanded hours so the venue could host more “fundraising” events — and not sure when or how long those would operate. But your point about animals needing to rest from being objects of entertainment would certainly be negated if the zoo remained open later. This also pertains to the comment about the LA Arboretum “light shows.” While the Arboretum currently houses peafowl (peacocks) and different species of birds drop in over the year, they’re not “caged” and can escape the lights.

      During the holiday season, light displays currently exist in the zoo but are probably not the best idea. However, they’ve been entertaining folks for years now, so they’ll probably remain, but one can only wonder how many animals are bothered by these lights late into the night (and this does impact animals beyond the scope of the zoo as well).

      And addressing some other ideas… why should Griffith Park become even more of a “revenue” generator? Is LA unable to create financial solutions without forcing this Park to become an even larger “cash cow?” Should EVERY park in LA become a money-generator?

      This is a Parkland… and in fact, Griffith Park is the largest urban wilderness in the country. Currently LA remains, for the most part, a large city with a dearth of green space.

      If anything, bringing more development into this Park would further diminish people’s quality of life, because this Park provides the backyard space many lack in their neighborhoods. In fact, on weekends, many trails and picnic areas are crowded with folks looking to get away from the craziness of city living, at least for a few hours.

      The suggestion that unused or under-utilized areas can be turned into field tracks or obstacle courses for youth… Pote Field (baseball field) is an example of a space that was put aside for one of the junior colleges after their athletic field was sold off. But that field is utilized very infrequently, and people are shooed away if they’re not authorized to use the field. But you do bring up a great point… Why are there so few areas set aside for youth athletics? Ferraro Fields (in Griffith Park) is another example — it’s completely taken over for most of the day on weekends for adult play… and why is that? Putting more athletic fields into the Park isn’t really an option because eventually those fields revert to adult play. In fact, many “picnic areas” in the Park are eliminated by individuals playing soccer because they don’t belong to a team. So, passive recreationists once again lose out. Playgrounds in many LA neighborhoods are locked on weekends, so a better option — open those fields to kids. Or better yet… create more green spaces in neighborhoods lacking green space. That would alleviate some of the larger issues.

      In closing we should point out… this zoo exists in a Parkland… not the other way around. And the words of Griffith J. Griffith hopefully will resonate… “Public parks are a safety valve of great cities, and should be accessible and attractive, where neither race, creed nor color should be excluded.”

      Reply
  3. Peter Greer

    The destruction of a natural habitat to displace/eradicate an ecosystem seems surreal as an excuse to then create a superficial habitat for animals. Also destroying 200 plus trees in a city that’s desperate for more trees and canopy cover is just sad. Why not use that money to bolster already dying habitats and plant more trees in neighborhoods and areas that have been lacking for years.

    Reply
  4. patricia borchmann

    Please support Alternative 1
    • Don’t destroy 23 acres of native habitat, including 227 LA City-protected trees
    • The full project is counter to City priorities, including the Biodiversity Report and the LA Sustainability Plan
    • The LA Zoo will still benefit from zoo animal care improvements and many visitor amenities if Alternative 1 is implemented
    FoGP believes in the importance of keeping Griffith Park as natural as possible, because when that acre of land, those endangered trees or that open field is gone, it’s gone forever.”

    Reply
  5. David Reames

    As soon as the last of the humane and conservation-minded and politically active zookeepers retired, who stood in their way, Zoo management is now actively promoting a disneyfication of the zoo and turning it into a theme park. Eric Garcetti who claims to be a pro conservation Democrat should be ashamed of himself.

    Reply
  6. Michelle

    I’ve been a Concierge in LA for 27 years and visitors do not come here for the zoo. They come for the usual attractions like Hollywood Blvd, Venice Boardwalk. Beverly Hills etc. no need for another attraction like Universal Studios or Disneyland. A vineyard? That’s for wine growing regions like Napa Or Sonoma. Curious as to who came up with an increase in 3 million more visitors a year. Who did they ask? Travel agents, Tour operators? concierge? Anyone In The travel industry? As far as their figure that 89% are local visitors. How will local families be able to afford this new fancy attraction?
    And destroying 200 plus native trees that provide shade and a habitat for wildlife and requires no water to replace them with a vineyard that provides no shade and requirements is totally stupid.

    Reply
    • Kathryn Louyse

      We’re not sure where all the add-ons came from. We do know that with the expansion, the LA Zoo intends to compete with other “attractions.”

      Reply
  7. Dennis

    It’s Nov. 2. Is there any progress in stopping the expansion of the LA Zoo. I believe it’s now with the City Council and we have to reach out to our Councilperson to get them to vote to stop this.
    Does anyone have any new information?

    Reply
    • Kathryn Louyse

      First it will go to LA Arts, Parks, Health, Aging, and Los Angeles River Committee… once/if approved the LA Zoo expansion proceeds to the full council.

      Reply
  8. Gene Baur

    Griffith Park is a rare natural treasure, and it should be preserved as much as possible. Expanding the zoo and destroying native habitat is backwards. We should protect natural spaces instead of expanding the land used for captive animals.

    Reply
  9. George Hladky

    I remember the current zoo with its shady tree canopy, as the perfect toddler heaven. The annual pass encouraged me to frequently take the children there when they were young. Almost an off peak, alternate playground. A serene, semi tropical world where the animals fit unobtrusively into the landscape. Over the years I have also seen a lot of reclusive wildlife enjoying its surroundings in the tucked away canyon. Bobcats and I even remember P22, the mountain lion got in trouble for eating a koala bear or two, when he had first arrived here. There are many theme parks around the world but the LA zoo has a totally unique charm. The zoo should use, build and improve upon it rather than bulldozing it away.

    Reply
    • Kathryn Louyse

      The Zoo could have taken out a depredation order on P-22 when he leaped the fence and disappeared with one wandering koala. Thankfully, they chose not to, otherwise what the LA Zoo is experiencing now would have added more fuel to an already simmering fire. People understand the simple reality — this zoo resides in the largest urban wilderness in the country — not the other way around. With that in mind, this zoo (and the City) should be cognizant of why it’s important to protect this space — not destroy it!

      And thanks for your comments.

      Reply
  10. Jean Cafferty

    OK, it took me a while to figure out the two links. The “convenient portal” is the one you actively write a comment. The one with the “council file #” takes you to a page where comments are posted, but you have to click on each one to read it. OK, got it!

    Reply
    • Freda Shen

      Thanks, very helpful.

      Reply
    • Freda Shen

      Once you click on the Comments link for any particular day, you can read all the Comments from that day by scrolling down.

      Reply
  11. Linda Wobbe

    I support Option One, and have written my Councilmember, Gil Cedillo, asking that he do the same.

    Reply
    • Kathryn Louyse

      Many thanks and pass this along to other folks!

      Reply
    • SUELLEN

      ALTERNATIVE ONE — just to make it very clear. They might consider OPTION ONE to be the ful project. Please say “ALTERNATIVE ONE”

      Reply
  12. Jennifer

    I just visited the Zoo a few days ago and spoke with a zookeeper there. She was very excited about the expansion, for what it could do for the animals. How the “round-a-bouts” would be eliminated and more natural enclosures would be created for the smaller animals. That they were planning on a better and larger enclosure for younger lions coming to them, and so on.
    Those things sounded wonderful.
    Honestly, the rest is not needed though. Who goes to a zoo to rock climb? I would rather see the botanical aspect and possibly more education about the park included in the expansion.
    Middle ground… all about middle ground.

    Reply
    • Kathryn Louyse

      And therein lies at least one problem with this expansion… the additional (unrelated) entertainment features — and as you noted, “who goes to a zoo to rock climb?”
      These are merely ploys to pull more folks into the zoo, but if the focus is “conservation,” where exactly are they because they seem to be lost in the larger, grander vision. Scaling back to maintain a focus on “conservation” would be a nice thing, but again what’s on the table extends far beyond.

      Reply
  13. Ron

    If you wanna help stop this expansion. I created a petition. Please sign it and share it with your friends 🙂
    Let’s protect our native woodlands!
    👇🏼
    https://chng.it/48rtdmyt4N
    Thank you 🙏🏻

    Reply
  14. Keri Dearborn

    Thank you for helping bring the LA Zoo’s misguided plan to light. I’ve used the portal to send my comments to the Council and will be writing to my Council member. Appreciate the links to the official documents. It would be helpful if the links opened in a separate page. I will be joining your organization.

    Reply
    • Kathryn Louyse

      We‘ve long debated this idea of opening links in separate pages, or keeping folks on our page. I’ll pass your concerns on, but in the meantime, thank you for using the portal and we greatly appreciate you reaching out to your individual councilmember. The more people voice their opinions, the more the LA Council will listen.
      And joining us would be great. Hopefully you’ll check out some of our volunteer efforts as well.

      Reply
  15. Elena de la Cruz

    I read the article today and was outraged at the potential for less park area. I just became a member thanks to seeing your efforts to stop this. Thanks! Angelenos, including the non-human ones, need this park intact. We have enough entertainment activities as it is, we don’t have enough park spaces.

    Reply
    • Kathryn Louyse

      We hope your outrage will include an email to your current LA councilmember. And we all thank you for reaching out to our organization and joining as a member.

      Reply
    • Ron

      I was outraged too, so I created a petition to stop this expansion. Please consider signing it, and sharing link with your friends 🙂 👇🏼
      https://chng.it/48rtdmyt4N

      Reply
      • Jean Cafferty

        Re: Ron’s petition. It ends with a wish to make zoos themselves extinct.

        So I googled “In favor of zoos” and got a lot of results. Animals are safe from poaching in zoos and the vets keep track of animal health. People see them face to face and are more likely to care about living things they have met rather than unknown animals out there somewhere in the wild.
        I support Alternative 1 for the LA Zoo. I am at a loss of how destroying wild areas for living animals is helping animals. ?!

        Reply
        • Kathryn Louyse

          When you google “in favor of zoos”… these are generally the voices of the zoos and there’s a certain argument to be made.

          While zoos will protect “some” species from certain extinction, I’ve seen enough questionable behavior by kids and parents alike and wonder, given the proximity to animals is this a really good thing? I’ve seen food wrappers, and half eaten fruits tossed into enclosures.

          That said, last July the zoo announced a new “conservation strategic plan” and if implemented could be a really great thing.

          But there are some also egregious items within the current plan? Can we not do better and perhaps rethink making this the kind of zoo that invites people to understand the plight of species without interjecting all the climbing walls, vineyards, parking structures, and further encroachment into the existing “wild” spaces of Griffith Park.

          This is where going back to the drawing board might come in handy.

          Reply
          • Freda Shen

            Really appreciate this discussion about zoos. They’ve come a long way from the earliest days of animal incarceration, but FOGP and all of us members can help bend the path of zoos toward conservation and preservation. I’ve posted and have sent an email to my current Councilmember Raman – thanks to Kathryn and Gerry and all at FOGP!

  16. Alejandro Artigas

    I support Alternative 1
    • Don’t destroy 23 acres of native habitat, including 227 City-protected trees

    Reply

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