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Compromise May End L.A. Zoo Feud : Parks: Agreement says new director will set policy. Nonprofit group will continue to handle fund raising.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

City parks officials and a nonprofit group that helps operate the Los Angeles Zoo on Monday reached a compromise agreement that they say could end years of bitter feuding over who should control the troubled facility.

Under the agreement authored by City Councilman Joel Wachs, the zoo director would have clear authority to manage and set policy for the zoo and to settle disputes between zoo staff and members of the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Assn.

GLAZA, according to the agreement, would continue to be the only organization authorized to solicit funds for the 25-year-old zoo’s operations and improvements. However, city parks officials said they will seek a provision allowing the new zoo director to participate in fund-raising activities.

GLAZA would continue to manage zoo concessions and recruit and train volunteer docents who would conduct educational programs, but they would require the zoo director’s approval.

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Under the current contract, the city and GLAZA share responsibility for zoo operations in an arrangement that city auditors say has led to feuding and confusion.

Guided by a recent audit, the Recreation and Parks Commission voted Nov. 4 to consolidate zoo operations under a director and increase the commission’s authority over GLAZA.

After GLAZA officials threatened to resign in protest, the City Council a week ago blocked the commission’s action by invoking a new City Charter amendment that gives the council the power to review actions by commissions.

The compromise was achieved Monday during a three-hour meeting of the City Council’s Arts, Health and Humanities Committee. The agreement will be presented to the full council Dec. 3, said Wachs, who heads the committee.

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“All they needed was a good marriage counselor,” said Greg Nelson, an aide to Wachs. “The problem seems to have been lingering personality conflicts.”

Years of trying to negotiate an agreement between GLAZA and the city had reached an impasse that some feared would cause new zoo director Mark Goldstein to reconsider accepting the $116,448-a-year position he assumes in January.

“Today, we resolved 90% of the issues,” said Recreation and Parks Commissioner Dominick W. Rubalcava, “and we are going to work with GLAZA to resolve the remaining 10%.”

Camron Cooper, chairwoman of the 40-member GLAZA board, also was pleased with the agreement she said would be presented to her board Thursday.

“Councilman Wachs and his committee have made a fine effort here on behalf of the zoo,” Cooper said, “and I am going to recommend that our board approve the agreement.”

The agreement also altered a controversial order by city parks officials that would require GLAZA to pay the city $2 each time one of its members enters the zoo. Previously, members were offered unlimited entrance in return for their annual membership fee of $35 for individuals and $45 for families.

Under the agreement, GLAZA would transfer to the Recreation and Parks Department $5 for each member and $7 for each family admitted to the zoo. The fund would be used only for zoo purposes approved by the zoo director.

“We did a damn good job today,” said Councilwoman Joy Picus who, along with Wachs, voted to approve the agreement.

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The dissenting vote was cast by Councilman Mike Hernandez.

A spokeswoman for Mayor Tom Bradley, whose office had lobbied hard in support of parks officials’ efforts to take control of the zoo, praised the agreement, saying: “The ultimate goal of the zoo director being responsible for all operations at the zoo has been achieved.”

Goldstein, the new zoo director, could not be reached for comment.


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