Los Angeles Business Journal

Plan to Privatize L.A. Zoo Stopped

By Howard Fine Thursday, September 27, 2012

The plan to privatize operations of the Los Angeles Zoo has collapsed, officials with the non-profit Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association announced Thursday.

Negotiations between the zoo association and the city broke off Sept. 21 over the amount of autonomy a private non-profit operator would have in running the zoo.

The zoo association, with the backing of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, had long pushed privatizing zoo operations as a way to stave off annual budget cuts that have increasingly chipped away at the zoo’s operations. A private operator, they argued, would have more freedom to market the zoo and increase visitor traffic.

Initially, privatization supporters had expected the major opposition to come from unions fearful that a private operator would outsource zoo jobs now held by city union employees. But in recent months, the biggest stumbling block has proven to be over control of zoo operations.

In a letter to City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana released Thursday, the zoo association said that it broke off negotiations because existing city policies and regulations made it too difficult for a private operator to function.

In an interview with the Business Journal, GLAZA chair Richard Lichtenstein and president Connie Morgan said that negotiators from the office of City Attorney Carmen Trutanich insisted that any private operator report regularly to the city and that the city have broad decision-making authority over zoo matters.

“That was simply untenable,” Lichtenstein said.

In response, Chief Deputy City Attorney Bill Carter said the zoo association’s decision to terminate negotiations came as a “complete shock.”

“It was our understanding that we were working towards a solution that would comply with all the labor and ethical requirements under the city charter,” Carter said.