An additional $800,000 approved by City Council for zoo project; Elk Grove Vice Mayor Spease issues warning

Elk Grove Vice Mayor Kevin Spease laid a marker on the relocation and construction costs of the Sacramento Zoo. |  By a unanimous vote, the ...

Elk Grove Vice Mayor Kevin Spease laid a marker on the relocation and construction costs of the Sacramento Zoo. | 

By a unanimous vote, the Elk Grove City Council approved an additional $800,000 expenditure for the Sacramento Zoo relocation project. The vote was taken at the Wednesday, January 25, regular city council meeting.

According to a presentation to the city council from City of Elk Grove Innovations Czar Christopher "CJ" Jordan, the money will be used for various purposes such as an environmental impact report, water supply assessment, and parking lot design. Czar Jordan noted the city's obligation was established in the memorandum of understanding between the city and the Sacramento Zoological Society, the operator of the Sacramento Zoo. 

Czar Jordan said the MOU placed responsibility for all the features outside the gate of the proposed facility were the city's responsibility. However, everything inside the gates is the SZS's responsibility, including the development of construction and operational financing, Czar Jordan noted. 

During public comment, one resident rhetorically questioned the city council about financing. While acknowledging the SZS's responsibility to arrange the funding, Elk Grove resident Felipe Martin asked the city council about its process and opined the project could cost up to $600 million. (See Martin's entire commentary below). 

"Where's the funding going to come from to build this project, and how are we going to get there," Martin said to the city council. "But really, we are spending a lot of money putting the cart before the horse. We need to understand how we are going to do this."

Since the zoo relocation was proposed in 2021, there have been vague suggestions that the SZS could raise funds from private sources and foundations. Some Elk Grove taxpayers have expressed concern they could pay for the construction and ongoing zoo operating costs.  

Including the approval of the additional $800,000, the city will have spent $1.33 million of taxpayers' money on feasibility studies and other ancillary reports. The city also purchased 100 acres for $9.3 million, of which 60 were for the proposed zoo site.  

During city council comments, City Councilmember Darren Suen dismissed Mr. Martin's concerns. Suen said the $1.33 million spent on studies was minuscule compared to the project's total cost. 

"Even if you are to scale it to a $300 million project, which I think it could be more, you are talking about a half of a percent [of total cost] of this dollar amount here, " Suen claimed. "We are going to have to spend a little bit more money to make sure we have a full picture."

Vice Mayor Kevin Spease said he would support the expenditure. However, Spease stressed he wanted verification of project financing. 

"I'm going to need to see a significant portion of support come from private funds," Spease said. "I am not interested in doing this on the back of Elk Grove taxpayers."

Spease added, "that's my warning signal for the future." See Spease's entire commentary below. 

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