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City Council OKs Creation of New Zoo Department : Animals: Vote aims to improve organization, fund raising and accountability at the troubled facility.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Charting a new course for the problem-plagued Los Angeles Zoo, the City Council on Tuesday authorized establishment of a separate department and other measures to improve organization, accountability and fund raising.

Without discussion, the council voted 10 to 0 to take the zoo away from the Department of Recreation and Parks and set up an independent zoo department, form a citizens advisory commission and hire a general manager and other staff members. The council also ordered substantial changes in the city’s agreement with the nonprofit Greater Los Angeles Zoo Assn., the facility’s fund-raising arm.

The lack of debate and the quick shepherding of the proposals recommended in an Oct. 26 report by two city departments underscored the broad consensus and a sense of urgency about the zoo’s many shortcomings.

The long-festering problems at the zoo--ranging from falling attendance to funding difficulties to unsanitary and substandard animal quarters--were highlighted in February in findings by a panel of zoo experts. Council President John Ferraro immediately formed an ad-hoc committee to make emergency improvements and find long-term solutions. Zoo Director Mark Goldstein resigned, and veteran parks administrator Manuel A. Mollinedo was put in charge during overhaul efforts.

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“We had an uphill fight, and everybody chipped in,” Ferraro said Tuesday. “We’ve done a lot, but now we have to make the long-term changes.”

Everyone, including a representative of the American Zoo and Aquarium Assn., which has threatened to cancel the Los Angeles facility’s accreditation if major problems are not corrected by this summer, “thinks we’re going in the right direction,” Ferraro said.

Tuesday’s vote ultimately will give the City Council more authority over the zoo, and it also will alter GLAZA’s role, making it the primary, but not the only, fund-raiser for the facility. It will report to the department, and the money it raises will be put into a new Zoo Enterprise Fund. Relations between the city and GLAZA have been strained and marked by confusion and disagreement over the fund-raising arm’s role and responsibilities, the city report noted.

Mayor Richard Riordan signaled his support for the reorganization plan in an Oct. 30 letter to Ferraro.

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City officials have not yet determined the cost of the new department, but Ferraro said he expects there will be little added expense because most of its employees and budget will be transferred from the Parks Department. With expected improvements in concession sales and fund-raising, the reorganization could well end up saving the city money in the long run, Ferraro added.


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