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Is Going Private the Only Way to Save the L.A. Zoo?

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Photo by magnetic lobster via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr
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The Los Angeles Zoo is struggling to meet its payroll, and with the current state of the city's budget, there isn't likely to be an influx of cash streaming in from the coffers any time soon. One solution on the table is to turn the Zoo over to a private operator who can afford to run the attraction, according to the Press-Telegram.

The idea was pitched by Los Angeles' Chief Administrative Officer Miguel Santana who "recommended the city choose a nonprofit partner by January to take over management in July 2012. A request for proposals may go out this summer, with a private partner to be selected by fall." Back in December 2009, with a budget crisis looming, city officials hinted that public-private partnerships for the Zoo might be worth pursuing.

Santana believes that by removing the local government from the management of the Zoo, the fundraising opportunities would multiply, since, in its current configuration, donors may be reluctant to write a large check to the City of Los Angeles. He also cites rising costs of operation as incentive to privatize, in order to prevent the Zoo from running at a deficit.

Objecting to the idea, however, are public employee unions. In the past two years, L.A. has already let go several dozen zoo employees in order to help lessen the burden on the budget. However, as part of the city's current "privatization proposal, no city worker would be laid off [and] no city benefits cut."

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The Zoo is located in the Council District of Tom LaBonge, who is advocating the privatization, so long as it is with a "a conservation organization interested in education, conservation and care for the collection," and not an amusement park operator.

One group ready to step up is the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association (GLAZA), who already "raises millions for zoo programs and exhibits, and also trains 700 volunteers and docents."