Future of zoo management still up in the air

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The director of the Los Angeles Zoo was mum today on plans to privatize management of the city property, telling budget committee members he had been advised not to speak on the matter.

“I’ve been counseled pretty strongly to be careful what I say regarding this issue because of state laws regarding contracts and future employment,” director John Lewis said.

The city administrative officer, Miguel Santana, explained that the city is considering a proposal to turn over management of the zoo to a public-private partnership. At the same time, a working group is looking at ways for the zoo to be cost neutral. The Los Angeles City Council is expected to review both proposals before June 30.

Any changes would be implemented in fiscal year 2013-14.

Effectively marketing the zoo remains a challenge, Lewis said. The zoo’s budget allocates $800,000 for marketing in the next fiscal year.

“If you talk to people mostly on the Westside of Los Angeles … if you ask them ‘Where’s the zoo?’ they say, ‘San Diego’,” Lewis said. “That’s a problem.”

More than 215,000 people visited the Los Angeles Zoo in April.

Asked whether parking would impact attendance, Lewis told the Budget and Finance Committee that the zoo lacks the infrastructure needed to charge for parking. Getting visitors off of the Golden State (5) Freeway and into the zoo is also a problem, Lewis said.

“We already have an egress problem of getting people off of the highway and into the zoo without backing them up,” he said. “All the (parking) plans looked at how could we do that without adding to the wait time of getting off the highway and into the zoo.”

The Budget and Finance Committee will continue reviewing Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's budget proposal tomorrow at 10 a.m.

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