OAKLAND -- Giraffes, elephants, camels and other Oakland Zoo wildlife are unlikely to be aware of the costly battle raging around them over the Measure A1 parcel tax on the Nov. 6 ballot.
The measure is expected to generate $112 million over a 25-year span to pay for the basic needs and care of zoo animals, facility upgrades, staff, education programs and field trips.
To raise the money, residential properties would be taxed $12 per parcel and $72 per nonresidential parcel. The tax would appear on 2013-14 property tax bills.
The measure needs a two-thirds majority to pass.
Supporters are trying to convince voters that they should approve another parcel tax, this one to take care of those beasts that bring hundreds of thousands of visitors to the zoo each year.
The Friends of Knowland Park and No on Measure A1 argue the zoo could use the tax revenue as an "open checkbook" to support an expansion of zoo grounds, which the group has tried unsuccessfully to block in court for environmental reasons.
Both sides have proved to be prolific fundraisers, spending just under $600,000 between them as of Oct. 20.
Zoo spokesman Nik Dehejia said the zoo needs A1 to pass because the weak economy, budget cuts and rising costs that have hurt revenues. He called the situation "extremely critical."
Friends of Knowland Park vehemently oppose the parcel tax. The group has raised $21,500 toward the campaign, the vast majority from staff of the California Native Plant Society, in its effort to defeat the measure.
Opponents also went after zoo officials for campaign violations.
As a result, the Oakland city attorney ordered the zoo to remove pro-Measure A1 signs from the grounds because the land is off-limits to campaigning.
The language of the measure allows for a wide range of uses that are consistent with the general categories listed in the expenditure plan.
"This flexibility is critical to allow for unforeseen circumstances, which could occur 15 years from now," Dehejia said. The city of Oakland paid the East Bay Zoological Society nearly $2 million in fees from 2010-12 to manage the zoo, formally called Knowland Park. The zoo also received money from a variety of other parcel taxes passed over the years, including Measures C, G and K, as well as millions from concessions, grants, bond revenues and ticket sales.
More than half of the zoo visitors come from outside Oakland.