We want a zoo

A bigger Sacramento Zoo at the old Sleep Train Arena site would be good for Natomas

Ron Dwyer-Voss, a 23-year Natomas resident and former Natomas Unified School District trustee, is a member of We Want a Zoo.

Ron Dwyer-Voss, a 23-year Natomas resident and former Natomas Unified School District trustee, is a member of We Want a Zoo.

Five years ago, Sacramento leaders promised that when the Golden 1 Center opened downtown and Sleep Train Arena shut down, the Natomas site would not become another sprawl mall with low-wage jobs or tract housing.

Councilwoman Angelique Ashby said that the goal was high-paying, long-term jobs, and that residential development did not meet the bar. As a mayoral candidate, Darrell Steinberg expressed similar passion for seizing this opportunity to do something creative and big. The Sacramento Kings promised to “get it right.”

Natomas residents knew it would take some time, but we rested assured that Sacramento was not going to fill a hole in downtown by creating another hole in Natomas.

Yet that is exactly what is happening.

The city gave the land to the Kings as part of the Golden 1 Center deal. The Kings spent the next four years presiding over the site becoming the largest piece of blight in Sacramento. Then in November, the Kings rolled out a truly uninspired plan for shops and housing. They did not listen enough to the community or our elected leaders. They basically performed like an out-of-town corporation looking to make a quick buck and leave.

Meanwhile, the Sacramento Zoo has a vision—a vision of a more humane, more educational and higher profile zoo on the arena site.

I have mixed feelings about zoos. Some are cruel. Others are amazing places for animals and provide the only way many people will ever get to experience and learn about the earth’s creatures and their habitats first hand.

But I’m not an expert. So what do the experts say? The Humane Society of the United States argues that “accredited zoos and aquariums have been a force for good in celebrating animals and fostering understanding of animal cognition, their social lives, and their place in the matrix of life. The best among them provide broad benefits to animals.” Fewer than 10 percent of zoos, however, receive accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

Unfortunately, the quaint and nostalgic 14-acre site of our current Sacramento Zoo is a very difficult place to avoid animal cruelty and keep AZA accreditation. Every parent who has taken their kids to see the big animals in Land Park hears that nagging voice: “I can’t believe that gorgeous creature is confined to that little space. Hope the kids don’t ask about that.”

If we are going to have a zoo, move it to the hole left in Natomas when the city gave away 100 acres. The Sacramento Zoo has a beautiful plan for that site—one we would be proud of as Sacramentans.

A five-star zoo could be an anchor to more creative development ideas, and clearly, the Kings need help in the creativity department. Just half of the entire 185-acre arena site would give Sacramento one of the nation’s largest zoos, just smaller than the world-famous San Diego Zoo.

That is good for animals and good for Sacramento. It is also good for Natomas.