The Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association Thursday dropped its bid to manage the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens, citing resistance by city officials to disclose why a private organization cannot take over management of the zoo while the city retains ownership of the animals and property.
GLAZA President Connie Morgan announced the decision by the group's Board of Trustees in a letter, dated Thursday, to City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana.
Santana had been leading negotiations for months with GLAZA, a nonprofit that does fundraising for the zoo, for the group to take over day-to-day management.
"GLAZA is very disappointed with the outcome of the negotiations," Morgan said. "This is a missed opportunity to mitigate the negative impact of continued city budget cuts to the zoo and to ensure the long-term well-being of the zoo's animals, its staff and its programming for the citizens and school children of the metropolitan Los Angeles area."
Santana blamed the City Attorney's Office for derailing the negotiations, which he said were otherwise 95 percent complete. They failed, Santana said, because the City Attorney's Office opined that the public-private partnership model was not legal, without providing any written explanation for the decision.
"The city attorney was unable to explain why a model that works for the Hollywood Bowl, LACMA, The Music Center, Disney Hall and the California Science Center cannot work for city of Los Angeles," Santana said.
Chief Deputy City Attorney William Carter disputed Santana's claim, saying that negotiations were continuing as recently as Friday to make the deal work and his staff was in the process of crafting a written opinion for GLAZA.
"This is a shock to us that GLAZA is taking this position," Carter said. "There must be something else happening that we're not aware of."
Carter said the proposal involved complex labor and ethical issues regarding authority over city workers by private GLAZA supervisors. Citing the Hollywood Bowl and Los Angeles County Museum of Art as successful models, Carter said, is not accurate because the city is governed by a charter that's different than the county with unique labor issues.
"When you have a private entity take over a public entity that has public employees, there are obvious labor considerations as to who supervises those public employees," he said. "We have to conform with the city charter."
Santana said GLAZA's withdrawal from the process puts the zoo in "real jeopardy" and will likely lead to layoffs of zoo staff. He said he will recommend to the City Council that it raise zoo admission fees and begin charging for parking to raise additional revenue, as well as contract out for janitorial and security services to cut costs.
The zoo will also likely be forced to begin paying for its own water and electricity similar to the Department of Recreation and Parks, Santana said.
One other entity aside from GLAZA bid to manage the zoo, but the proposal was not appropriate for the city or the animals, Santana said.
The City Council earlier this year approved the the fifth ticket price increase to the zoo in five years. A ticket for children 12 years old and under is now $12, up from $5 when Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa took office in 2005.
Admission for adults is $17, up from $10 seven years ago. The ticket price for seniors is $14.
Councilman Tom LaBonge, whose district includes the zoo, said he was very disappointed with the decision.
"I gotta go borrow the glasses that the Los Angeles County Counsel is reading with and give them to the city attorney, because I'm very disappointed," LaBonge said, referring to the county's ability to form partnerships with private entities to run publicly owned institutions.
LaBonge vowed to get more involved to revive the deal.
"I've relied on the City Attorney's Office. I've relied on the CAO. I've relied on the (Zoo) department to resolve this. I'm going to roll up my sleeves to protect the zoo," LaBonge said.