OAKLAND ---Two environmental groups that sued the Oakland Zoo last July to stop or alter the zoo's plans to expand into undeveloped Knowland Park and then tried to negotiate a settlement have abandoned those negotiations with the city and the zoo.
Friends of Knowland Park and the East Bay Chapter of the California Native Plant Society filed a lawsuit against the city and the zoo to stop the zoo 's plans to expand by about 54 acres into undeveloped Knowland Park to build a veterinary hospital, new animal exhibit, camping area and educational center.
The environmental groups will return to court to continue their lawsuit charging that the city broke the law by approving the project without a full Environmental Impact Report (EIR).
"We are deeply disappointed that the California Native Plant Society and the Friends of Knowland Park have voluntarily terminated mediation and have decided to continue their litigation against the Oakland Zoo,'' said Nik Dehejia, director of strategic initiatives for the zoo.
Dehejia said that since August, zoo management and board members have spent "countless hours" in mediation with these groups to discuss the situation.
Ruth Malone of Friends of Knowland Park said the group is "bitterly disappointed" at the outcome.
"We really hoped that mediation would succeed," said Malone. "We spent nearly two months trying for a win-win, and in the end we still had no way to permanently protect any portion of Knowland Park from development."
The zoo's plans call for a 17,000-square-foot veterinary hospital; the California Trails exhibit featuring condors, mountain lions and grizzly bears; an aerial gondola; an overnight camping area; and an education center.
Environmentalists say protecting the roaming foxes, deer, owls and coyotes, as well as the Alameda Whipsnake, a federally endangered species, and rare native plants such as the bristly leptosiphon and purple needle grass are more important than building what they call a zoo "theme park."
Expansion plans in some form were approved in 1998, but the lawsuit says the zoo significantly changed its development plans since they were approved by the council 13 years ago. The zoo doesn't argue that plans have been tweaked, but officials say they have completed the required environmental review process and that the Oakland Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission, Planning Commission and City Council approved the project after lengthy open discussions and community meetings.
Because the plans were amended, they had to again go before the Planning Commission, which approved the plans in May in a 3-1 vote. Opponents filed an appeal, which was shot down in a unanimous vote by the Oakland City Council in June. The lawsuit, which will be costly on both sides, followed.
"Funds used by the zoo to defend this project in court are better used in caring for our animals and delivering education programs to our children rather than continuing to waste the zoo's time and resources to defend the lawsuit,'' Dehejia said.