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Elk Grove Citizen

Zoo Makes Case for Elk Grove Move

May 02, 2024 01:21PM ● By Matthew Malone

Visitors at the Sacramento Zoo’s Happy Hour event read about why the zoo is advocating for a move to a new, larger location in Elk Grove. Photo by Matthew Malone

Sacramento Zoo Happy Hour [3 Images] Click Any Image To Expand
SACRAMENTO, CA (MPG) - Looking to make its case for a move down to Elk Grove as a crucial City Council hearing approaches, the Sacramento Zoo hosted an information session April 18 and invited Elk Grove Chamber of Commerce members.
The April 18 info session was incorporated into the zoo’s Happy Hour, a 21-plus after-hours event that it hosts in spring and summer. Poster boards set up in a meeting room showed the zoo’s proposed plans for the space in south Elk Grove under consideration as its new home. Zoo staff explained the concepts for visitors.
Under the proposal, the zoo would build out the parcel north of Kammerer Road in four phases. 
The first phase would “focus on the core Zoo,” according to the materials shown at the happy hour, “including the entry and giraffe lodge, animal care, the savanna, and iconic species including lion, cheetah, gelada, and okapi.”
Phase 1 can be split in two, depending on funding; the full phase is estimated to cost $258 million in on-site work, plus $44 million in off-site improvements. 
Lesley Kirrene, the zoo’s director of institutional advancement and marketing, told the Citizen that the zoo struggles to meet modern wildlife care standards at its current location, which she said is too small and has old infrastructure.
“We had to send to other zoos a lot of our megafauna, bears and chimpanzees and tigers and a lot of animals that we just don’t have the space for. And that’ll continue to happen if this little zoo stays where it is and doesn’t move,” Kirrene said. “Pretty much, soon, we’d have reptiles and birds.”
The proposed location is about 65 acres, more than four times larger than the current footprint of 14.7 acres. Phase 1 of construction would fill in about 30 acres of the new site.
The construction’s initial phases would focus on the Giraffe Lodge and a restaurant at the site’s southwest end, according to Kirrene. 
The restaurant would open to the public before the rest of the zoo and stay open after hours once the zoo is built, allowing patrons to watch giraffes in a savanna environment and get a preview of the facility.
The relocated zoo would draw ideas from multiple other zoos, particularly some in Europe, Kirrene said. It would have a more “naturalistic” appearance, with multiple species living in shared areas, and barriers and paths hidden from view.
“Animals will be front and center here,” Kirrene said.
Elk Grove City Council is set to consider giving final approval to the project at its May 8 regular meeting, and the zoo appealed to Happy Hour visitors to support it by attending the May 8 meeting, submitting comment to city officials or signing on to a letter of support.
“A zoo is not only a place for entertainment and recreation but also serves as an educational resource for children and adults alike. It provides an opportunity for individuals to learn about various animal species, their habitats, and the importance of environmentalism and conservation efforts,” the letter of support stated, also saying that a zoo would boost economic growth and make Elk Grove the first U.S. city “to build a new zoo from the ground up in more than 30 years.”
When the Planning Commission met on April 4 and ultimately recommended that City Council approve the project, it received more than 200 written public comments.
Members of the chamber who attended said they wanted to gather information on the zoo’s plans but they declined to comment on the idea of a move to Elk Grove, noting that the chamber has not taken a formal position. They praised the Happy Hour series, which features live music, food and alcoholic beverages, as a way of broadening the zoo’s appeal beyond children.
Board member Amy Labowitch, who previously worked with the zoo, said a representative explained the effects of the zoo’s lack of space.
“Zoos aren’t just for looking at animals. Their basic purpose is preservation and restabilization and all of these other things that zoos are supposed to be doing. And can they do it here?” Labowitch said.
Sacramento business owner Jeff Hallsten described longtime connections to the zoo, having brought his children to the zoo when they were young and serving as a board member. His daughter works at the zoo as a primate zookeeper. Hallsten commented in favor of the move before the Planning Commission and said he planned to appear before City Council as well.
“Personally, for me, I’m all in on this thing,” Hallsten told the Citizen, adding that the current location is too small. “Elk Grove basically stepped up and did what Sacramento didn’t have the vision to do. … I can’t imagine why a municipality wouldn’t want to promote something like the zoo and there’s an infrastructure cost but the cost is so minimal for all the return, which is both financial and cultural, and the city would have a zoo.”
For more information about the zoo proposal, visit the city of Elk Grove’s webpage at (case sensitive). The May 8 City Council meeting will be at 6 p.m. at Elk Grove Council Chambers, 8400 Laguna Palms Way. The agenda and meeting materials will be posted at least 72 hours beforehand at