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L.A. Council moves ahead with zoo privatization plan

August 12, 2011 |  5:02 pm

Zoo patrons view a pair of Masai giraffes at the Los Angeles Zoo. City of Los Angeles is considering privatizing the zoo. ( Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
The Los Angeles City Council has moved forward on a plan to possibly turn over management of the Los Angeles Zoo to a private company or nonprofit.

In a 9-2 vote Friday, the council passed a measure that calls for the city to begin soliciting proposals from prospective operators. City officials will start reviewing responses this fall. If a contract is approved, the new operator could be in place by next summer.

But Friday’s proposal also asks city analysts to explore an alternative to privatization to see whether there are changes that can be made that would save money while keeping the zoo under city control. According to the proposal, representatives from the union that represents zoo workers will weigh in on that process to help find ways to cut costs.

Lowell Goodman, a spokesman for the union that represents zoo workers, said he was glad that provision gave workers “a seat at the table.”

Many zoo workers oppose the proposal to turn over management because it means some of them could be transferred to other departments and replaced with private workers.

“I know my job upside down, backward and forward,” said Arlen Sturn, a truck operator at the zoo who spoke before the council. Private workers, he warned, “won’t know the layout of the zoo, the way it operates.”

Miguel Santana, the city’s top budget official, said turning over management would help save city jobs because it would, over time, lower the cost of employee salaries, benefits and pensions.

“We’re trying to relieve pressure on the system so layoffs are less likely, not more likely,” Santana said.

Santana said that if the city does not privatize management, the zoo could lose funding and face possible closure as city officials struggle to close a $200-million budget gap. That deficit is expected to grow in future years.

Like many city departments, the zoo and botanical gardens have faced budget cuts and staff reductions. Over the last five years, 15% of zoo staff have been cut, according to Santana.

Two potential operators have expressed interest in taking over management of the zoo.

One is the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Assn., or GLAZA, a nonprofit headquartered on the zoo's campus that raises money for the institution, manages its memberships and operates its concessions. In 2010-11, it raised about $13 million for the zoo, according to GLAZA President Connie Morgan.

The other party is Parques Reunidos, a Madrid-based theme park operator that runs 70 amusement parks, water parks and zoos worldwide.

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L.A. considers putting zoo in private hands

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Miguel Santana: the man behind L.A. City Council's job cuts vote

-- Kate Linthicum at Los Angeles City Hall

Photo: Visitors view a pair of Masai giraffes at the Los Angeles Zoo. The city of Los Angeles is considering privatizing the zoo. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

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