Game On! The Sacramento Zoological Society's push hyping $400 million Elk Grove relocation project is underway

Even though financing details are still under wraps, the Sacramento Zoological Society has started pushing support for a $400 million zoo relocation project to Elk Grove. The SZS hopes to move the zoo from its current site, Sacramento Land Park, to a 68-acre taxpayer-owned parcel in Elk Grove.

As part of their strategy, the SZS is emailing supporters to flood Elk Grove Planning Commission and City Council meetings as a visible display of support for the relocation project.   

The SZS sent an email on March 1 that said the following:

"We are asking community members to show their enthusiasm and support of the proposed new zoo project by attending two crucial meetings coming up soon! We hope you, your kids, family, friends, neighbors, and business associates can join us in Elk Grove in April and May to show your support!"

Interestingly, the city and SZS are clandestinely coordinating their efforts. Before it has been revealed in a public notice, the SZS tells supporters to attend the Thursday, April 14 Planning Commission and the May 8 City Council meetings.  

The email states, "At this meeting, a critical vote for the new zoo project will take place. Your presence and enthusiasm for the new zoo will have a significant impact."  

Those who have followed Elk Grove over the last several years will recognize this pattern. Former Elk Grove Mayor Gary Davis used the same tactic when he pitched the ill-fated soccer facility and the District56 aquatics center.

For the soccer facility, which fancifully included a $125 million stadium hoping to recruit a Major League Soccer expansion franchise, Davis encouraged and got every soccer mom and dad with kids in tow to attend meetings. The city council chamber was jammed with kids clamoring that more soccer fields are needed, which, in retrospect, was an exaggeration, if not an outright lie (see video below).

Davis also wanted an Olympic-class aquatics center, including a 10-meter diving platform. Although he didn't get his desired Olympic-caliber facility, he convinced his city council colleagues, including current councilmember Darren Suen, to build the problem-plagued aquatics center.

There was one massive difference between the soccer and aquatic facilities. That difference was funding.

The aquatics center and District56 have an identified funding source: the Laguna Ridge Mello Roos fees. Essentially, people living in the Laguna Ridge area paid for the construction and ongoing operation of the facility.

For the soccer facility, the city could never answer if they would issue issue revenue or obligation bonds and use taxpayers as collateral in the case of default or impose higher taxes? Unlike District56, the soccer facility had no identified funding and collapsed under Davis' hubris.

Interestingly, the city purchased land for the zoo and soccer facilities without revealing how the proposed project would be financed. The soccer facility parcel was sold and is now a private enterprise warehouse facility. Of note, the District56 parcel resides on 56 acres the city obtained without cost from Laguna Ridge area developers.

So, zoo supporters will undoubtedly jam the city council chambers. If history is any guide, Mayor Bobbie Singh-Allen will channel Davis' soccer facility declarations and say to cheering supporters, "You have your zoo!"

The SZS email concludes by saying, "Exciting things are on the horizon for the animals, for generations of children, for the Elk Grove community, and for the region as a whole. YOU can play an important role in the process as we work together to create the first major new zoo in this country in more than 30 years. Together we will create the next GREAT zoo right here at home!"


One inescapable question for the SZS is why no zoos have been built in the last 30 years. If they were such an economic driver, as Elk Grove's economic developer director Darrell Doan claims, say like an MLB or NFL stadium, they would be sprouting up like weeds in every mid-size American city.

Zoos are 24-hour, 365-day facilities that are expensive to build, maintain, and operate. Elk Grove is having trouble recruiting a veterinarian for its animal shelter to the point it has suspended spay and neuter services, so how do they or the SZS expect to recruit several large animal and zoological veterinarians for a facility that will quadruple in size and presumably animals?  

There is no escaping that fact, and unless you want to have Disney World-like fees, to keep admission fees accessible to families, taxpayer-supported subsidies are needed. With no taxpayer support, lower income families will be excluded and the zoo takes on a Victorian-era country club like aura.  

The unanswered question remains unchanged from when this proposal first surfaced: who pays?

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