Who pays? Elk Grove's zoo update filled with design elements, void of financing details

Even though they were not part of the report, Vice Mayor Kevin Spease expressed skeptisim on finaincing plans for the $400 million relocation of the Sacramento Zoo to Elk Grove. |  

At last night's Elk Grove City Council meeting, Mayor Bobbie Singh-Allen and her city council received a 30-minute update on the proposed relocation of the Sacramento Zoo to Elk Grove. Presented by Elk Grove innovation czar Christopher Jordan, the report was dominated by design details.

Missing from Mr. Jordan's report was the most critical aspect of the proposed $400 million 65-acre zoo - who pays?

While Jordan's report outlined the proposed zoo's layout in greater detail, hints were dropped that original elements were downgraded based on excessive costs. While discussing one of the zoo's eating establishments, Jordan said a proposed outdoor glass patio area was replaced with a more economical design.

"That cafe space was originally planned as an enclosed cafe, where you had glass viewing from the inside the building," Jordan explained. "We've backed off from that. Instead, this is an open-air patio space," and "we are bringing in those pricing numbers thinking about how do we make this an economically feasible project." 

Jordan said construction will be in phases and hinted at other cost reductions. One was site preparation would be accomplished without importing dirt.

"I have to give a ton of kudos to and support to our design team, who, at this point, has managed to get to the point of a balanced site," Jordan said. "If our numbers are right, we are not looking at importing soil into this; we can work with all that is out there today, which is a pretty amazing accomplishment."  

Along with implying the initial plans were budget busters, Jordan also hinted at the intentions of Mayor Singh-Allen's plan to finance the massive project. Jordan remarked the entrance architecture could provide donation opportunities. 

"This has been designed as an opportunity for maybe some donations, along the way from some construction partners" and "showing our partnerships across the region," he noted. 

Although Jordan did not elaborate on "partnerships across the region," Singh-Allen has voiced support for a regional sales tax pursued by outgoing Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg. 

Wheat directed the conversation, Singh-Allen clearly irritated with narrative

Although there was only one public comment, the remarks from Elk Grove resident Lynn Wheat set the narrative for the city council deliberations. Wheat asked the most pressing question within Elk Grove - who will pay for the animal relocation cost, construction, and ongoing operations (see video below for entire commentary)?  

Wheat, a long-time city council observer, noted the city's failed plans for former Mayor Gary Davis' scheme to build soccer facilities to attract a Major League Soccer team. She also stated the District56 facilities have only some of the promised amenities.

"I'm wondering how much all the big dreams cost," Wheat asked the mayor and her city council. "We can all get excited about it until it comes down to money."

Starting deliberation, Councilmember Sergio Robles thanked Wheat for discussing the costs.

"I can guarantee a lot of constituents have the same questions you brought up," Robles said.

Councilmember Darren Suen defended the cost already incurred, which, not including the $9.5 million land purchase, are estimated at over $2 million. However, Suen heeded Wheat's presentation. 

"At any given time, we can pull the plug," Suen said in acknowledgment of Wheat's critique. "I think your examples were appropriate as well."

Suen then rattled off a list of failed or incomplete city projects. While Suen mentioned the soccer facilities and the unfilled amenities promised at District56, he did not include the recent collapse of the Project Elevate project.

Vice Mayor Kevin Spease also picked up on Wheat's commentary. He stated while there is regional support for the new zoo, Elk Grove residents and taxpayers will shoulder the financial responsibility.

"It is the residents of Elk Grove, the taxpayers of Elk Grove, who are the ones who will be paying for this," Spease said. "In the end, it sits on the back of Elk Grove taxpayers, and that is what I am most concerned about."

Singh-Allen, who openly loathes Ms. Wheat, was visibly irritated when her city council acknowledged the financing concerns Wheat summoned. As a counter-balance, Singh-Allen glowingly claimed widespread regional and community support for the zoo but did not address financing and its implications for Elk Grove taxpayers.

According to Jordan, the city council will hear the financing plan in early 2024. The city council could also approve the project as early as Spring 2024.   

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Capt. Benjamin Willard said...

It will be noteworthy to see if Mr. Spease is genuine in defending taxpayers or putting on another act. Recall the anger he feigned a few months ago on the Sheldon area project. The Vice Mayor acted indignant toward the applicant and scolded them, but turned around and gave his approval.

Will Mr. Spease genuinely scrutinize the financing plan? Or will he bend to the will of Ms. Singh-Allen and lend his support? Concerned taxpayers will be watching.

Juan Trippe said...

It looks like the Elk Grove taxpayers better buy some soap-on-a-rope because they are going to take it up the you know what with BSAs plan.

D.J. Blutarsky said...

I'm curious how much of a financial commitment the City unofficially made to the design team. How else would they know what the budget is? 

I noticed that the City is socking away about 20-25% of the Measure E sales tax revenue for undisclosed purposes. I would not be surprised to see the stored up Measure E money used to pay for the Phase 1 construction cost, and then each year thereafter, about 20-25% of Measure E money will be used to subsidize the operating costs.  

Remember, Measure E was the "quality of life tax". I hear the hyenas laughing at us already!

Eye on Elk Grove said...

Oh, DJ, just the mention of the hyenas, got me thinking about “The Lion King,” I seriously doubt we have a Mufasa on the Elk Grove City Council, and maybe just a few too many Scars!

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