This post will discuss how the zoo expansion will create a zoo that turns its back on the neighborhood, further hurts businesses in an already blighted neighborhood, and closes off all walking opportunities into the park. While some have claimed that the master plan will help the area by drawing more visitors, the plan has been created to keep out-of-town visitors away from local businesses, funnel them into a paid parking lot, and do this all while keeping locals out by blocking off pedestrian access.
From what I've been reading of the Chaffee Zoo expansion project, the general consensus seems to be that it's a good idea. The town officials voted unanimously for it, although to be honest, they always do tend to vote yes for every large project that passes before them.
The citizen comments I've seen also have been pro-expansion. That makes sense, in 2004, voters passed "Measure Z", known as "Save Our Zoo". That measure added one tenth of one percent to the county's sales tax rate. Now the voters are eager to see 7 years of tax collection used to build SOMETHING. The zoo wants to move quickly on expansion as well, Measure Z will be up for vote again in 2014, and they want to show voters what the money is being used for (apparently maintenance isn't enough).
So basically, if the zoo expansion was in a vacuum, then everyone except PETA would be on board, including myself.
The concern is that the proposed expansion does not involve building on empty land. it involves taking a large public park, converting a large portion of it into the zoo, converting another large section into parking, and leaving a small corner for free public use.
(See my last post for details on how the park will be divided).
So when people are presented with this new information (that the zoo will involve closing large portions of the existing park), they tend to talk about the state of the area is the park is.
The area is ugly. The area is rundown. The area is filled with blight and abandoned buildings. All true.
And an expanded zoo will fix this. This, I do not agree with.
It's true, the area is not attractive and is economically depressed. But there is no logic behind the theory that a zoo expansion will make the area better.
For one, there is a zoo there now, which draws from a wide area. It is popular. If the zoo hasn't "fixed" the area now, then why should we believe that a bigger zoo will?
Of course the argument would be that more people = more stops at local businesses.
That argument has one major flaw: The proposed expansion plan will CLOSE the existing entrance on Belmont (the local blighted street) and open a new one on Golden State (essentially a highway). *See pictures below*
So instead of revitalizing the street, the zoo expansion actually plans to direct people onto a path where they will encounter NO local businesses, and so, see no blight. The new entrance will be on a street in which the park is to the west, and train tracks are to the east. Not only do the tracks currently form a wall between the road and the local neighborhood, but the HSR project intends to use that path, basically ensuring that zoo visitors do not have to look at local businesses.
I doubt this was a mistake. The new entrance seems to have been designed around the following idea:
-How do we get out of town visitors into the zoo without having them see this blighted area? And how do we ensure that they park (and pay to park) at our lots, instead of parking nearby (free street parking) and walking?
Visitors will now essentially be forced to drive into the park, and pay the $5 parking fee to get to the entrance. Transit? Ha. Walking? Not anymore. Biking? On Golden State? No sir.
And locals? Well, what used to be a convenient (walkable) entrance into the zoo and park from the neighborhood will be closed off. It will become a maintenance entrance only.
The zoo entrance will then be relocated so instead of being angled towards the neighborhood, it will be focused exclusively on the new giant parking lot.
Here you can see the existing situation. The blue line is a 6 minute walk (.3 miles). Thats using the roadway, I drew in a light blue line where pedestrians can cut their trip to less than 5 minutes. The entrance is aimed down, towards the neighborhood. Not visible are the homes south of the screen capture.
The red lines are what drivers would use. They would use Belmont and see the local businesses (and blight). They could park for free On Belmont, and walk for 4 minutes, or drive into the small existing parking lot ($5).
Here is the new plan. That entrance would be closed.
A new, much wider road would be built leading to a giant parking lot. Drivers would enter through Golden State, which is essentially a freeway (it is the old CA-99). The entrance would be relocated north to aim only into the parking lot.
There would be no pedestrian ingress. As you can see, not only is Golden State a freeway, there are train tracks to the east. There is no where to walk to or from.
Aka: How to NOT revitalize a neighborhood.
You don't improve Fresno by speeding people into your attraction by freeway and then quickly ushering them out before they can see a local business. You don't improve the city by essentially mandating car ownership to access a park and zoo. And you certainly don't improve Fresno by converting a park into a parking lot.
Finally, here is an image similar to the one I created for my last post. This one was created by a group opposed to zoo expansion, but I have no affiliation with them.
They've kept the free park land in green, and the paid + parking area in grey.
(note: the map shows the existing entrance to the south, but apparently this will be for official vehicles only)
You can read their take on the plan here: