Comments on the renewal of the Zoo Society Woodland Park Zoo Management Agreement
Background: The 20 year contract under which the private Zoo Society manages all aspects of Woodland Park Zoo and the North 59th St. Playground is up for renewal. The City Council Public Assets Committee will take public comment on the agreement on Friday Sept. 10th at their 2pm meeting.
Registration for call-in public comment for the Public Assets Committee’s 2PM meeting on Sept 10th begins at NOON that day. Here is the link to register to call-in to give public comment
Written comments should be submitted by Sept 9th at 5 pm.
Members of the Committee are Debora Juarez <Debora.Juarez@seattle.gov>; Alex.Pedersen@seattle.gov <Alex.Pedersen@seattle.gov>; Lisa Herbold <Lisa.Herbold@seattle.gov>; Kshama Sawant <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Teresa Mosqueda Teresa.Mosqueda@seattle.gov
The full Council Bill and Draft Management Agreement can be found here
The following reflects the personal review of the agreement by a PRCC Board member but are not formal PRCC comments. However, they are offered for your information per the discussion at PRCC meeting on 9/7/2021.
Summary of needed amendments/additions to the contract:
Dear Council Members,
On Friday, you will consider approving an agreement with the private Woodland Park Zoo Society to control the Zoo and other properties for another 20 or more years. The draft agreement is not ready for your approval and given the importance and duration of this contract, the terms need to be amended in a few areas to ensure that the public interest is balanced with the Zoo Society's business model for this park.
The attached document explains areas and terms that need amending. In short these include:
1. Clarification of criteria for appointment of citizen representatives to the Zoo Society Board of Directors.
2. Strengthening and making more accountable the purpose and structure of the Zoo Neighborhood Liaison Committee.
3. Clarifying the process for public input into and government approval of the future revision to the Zoo Long Range Physical Development Plan.
4. Ensuring that ONLY the City Council (not the Parks Superintendent) has the authority to change the name of "Woodland Park Zoo" at any time in the future.
5. Clarifying what additional properties or areas are envisioned to be added to the definition of "Zoo premises." This has the potential to be highly controversial and limitations must be placed on any such condition in this contract.
6. Ensuring that any future capital projects proposed for construction on the "Zoo Premises" be legal. Recall that it took a public campaign and citizen appeal to prevent the travesty of a huge above ground parking garage being unlawfully constructed adjacent the North Meadow.
7. Some oversight/ approval of admission costs should be reinstated. Currently adult admission price is close to $25.00 and $15.00 for each child. The Society can certainly control its "membership" costs, but the general admission price should not be without some critical review. Even though the Zoo Society donates free tickets, not all of them are used and a visit to the Zoo has become very costly. Given the close to $10M+ City of Seattle annual subsidy, and the separate King County financial subsidy, some cost control for the public is warranted.
Please take the time to ensure that this agreement is more balanced. The Zoo Society is committed to managing the Zoo and they will not abandon the ship. It is in the mutual interest of the City of Seattle, and the Zoo Society to ensure a careful and predictable approach to how this significant historic resource is managed for the next twenty years.
LONGER VERSION OF ABOVE COMMENTS
8/24/ 2021 – Irene Wall Comments on Changes to the Proposed Zoo Management Agreement Page 1 of 3
Public Involvement in Capital Planning
Overall, the Agreement gives all leverage and power for community outreach to the WPZS. In the past, community outreach has been mostly about promoting what the Society wants and not actively listening to what the community has to say. The requirement for public involvement often is about capital projects but the agreement lacks a specific definition of what constitutes a “major capital project” and what will be required for public input.
The Agreement (p6) speaks of a new Long Range Physical Development Plan (LRPDP) to be developed within 5 years. What’s missing is a specific mechanism for securing public involvement in its development, or consultation with staff within the City who understand what should, and should not, be constructed on park property in a SF Zone. We need this to avoid another debacle like the ill-fated Zoo Garage.
The existing 2002 LRPDP includes several dubious new buildings, including an oversized “Office Building” and “Event Center.” The administrative staff that do not have regular responsibilities that require their being at the zoo, should be located off-site to preserve open space in the North Meadow area or elsewhere on zoo/park grounds. The Event Center is all about accommodating more private, fundraising events. Whether or not such a building should be on park property needs to examined in light of alternatives for enterprise activities that the Society could sponsor at off-site locations.
In any event, the Agreement should clearly spell out that the City of Seattle will NOT pay for or loan money to the Society for the design or construction of these non-animal exhibit buildings.
If the new LRPDP includes such an “Event Center” the Agreement should spell out that permitting the construction of this facility as a “community center” under the land use code, will require mandatory conditions that community groups shall be allowed to use these facilities for a cost no more than the fees the City charges similar groups at other community centers managed by the Parks Departments. The Society or the city shall not impose onerous insurance requirements for the use of these facilities by the public for non-commercial events.
The Agreement calls out the four neighborhoods in direct proximity and acknowledges their special interest in activities that directly affect them. The Agreement should include a requirement for consultation or mediation if needed between representatives of these neighborhoods, the Society, and the City (Parks Department or Mayor’s Office) in the event of a significant conflict over a program, event, or capital project proposed by the Society.
Financing and Affordability
The City is obligated to increase its contribution in line with the CPI, but the Society has unlimited power to raise any and all prices. There should be some limit on this. The Society should need to get approval for any increases above the rate of the CPI.
The Zoo Premises and “Off Site Facility”
The Agreement need to include language that puts some limitations on how often the Society can set aside sites/locations within the Zoo for private events that interfere with the use and access to those sites by paid admission zoo visitors. The Agreement at 3.1 makes a curious reference to “additional sites” that can be added to the zoo premises by amendment. Before agreeing to this condition, the Council and public need to understand that is contemplated as these additional sites.
Under the 3.2.1 Real Property section add a specific requirement that Zoo Society shall NOT demolition any physical facility on the zoo premises without consultation with DON Landmarks staff, and advance permits from Parks Department and SDCI. This happened in the past when the Society demolished the South American Barn (a historic resource) without getting a demolition permit.
Section 7. Accessibility and Neighborhood Impacts
Neighborhood Impacts should be a separate Section under the agreement and should specify how the Society should provide advance information on programs, capital and major maintenance projects that can reasonably be expected to have some impact on residential areas adjacent to the Zoo boundaries.
Section 8. Long Range Plan
This section places too much authority on the Parks Superintendent to approve a new Long Range Plan. The new plan must be approved by the City Council as it will usually include some expectation of financial assistance in addition to the nearly $10 M annually. The following should be added to this section:
The Superintendent will consult with members of the Zoo Neighborhood Relations Committee before approving a new Long Range Plan or amendments thereto.
Section 13.1 Zoo Name
The right to change the name of the zoo cannot be made by the Superintendent under any circumstances. Any such name change should only be made by the City Council.
Section 16 Reporting Obligations and Public Involvement.
The Annual Plan should be made available to the public earlier than December to provide for public comment to the Zoo and the Parks Superintendent. The Plan receives poor public review when the public’s attention is focused on holiday preparation and vacations.
Section 16.7 Public Involvement
The public appointments to the Society Board should be expanded or the criteria modified to ensure that at least one of the public appointees to the Board, be a representative approved by one of the community councils of Wallingford, Phinney Ridge, Fremont or Green Lake.
Section 16.7.4 Neighborhood Liaison
Add the sentence in boldface to this section: The Zoo-Neighborhood Relations Committee shall be reestablished and supported by the Dept of Parks and Recreation and be independent of the Society with respect to agenda setting. Representatives to the Liaison Committee shall be named by the community councils of Phinney Ridge, Fremont, Wallingford and Green Lake.
Add words in boldface to the sentence “... communities at least annually and at other times upon the request of representatives from the Community Councils of the above mentioned neighborhoods."
Add words in boldface to the last sentence “... including events, and capital projects, on the neighborhoods identified herein.”
Exhibit 4 Guiding Principles for a New Long-Range Master Plan for Woodland Park Zoo
Make changes in the paragraph on Visitor convenience and business opportunities. Strike "revision of meeting spaces" Meeting spaces are not a visitor convenience at a zoo. The focus of the Zoo Plan should be on animal exhibits, animal care and education, not “business opportunities.”