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L.A. Zoo's nonprofit partner will take on marketing duties

Attempts by two City Council members to dilute the privatization move fail.

June 28, 2013|By Catherine Saillant
  • A baby giraffe stays close to its mother shortly after its birth at the L.A. Zoo in April. The zoo's nonprofit partner will take over marketing of the zoo, plus arranging site rentals and catering. Those activities previously had been handled by zoo department staff.
A baby giraffe stays close to its mother shortly after its birth at the L.A.… (Irfan Khan, Los Angeles…)

Marketing for the Los Angeles Zoo will be handed over to its nonprofit partner, the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Assn., in an attempt to boost ticket sales and memberships at the Griffith Park attraction.

Two attempts by members of the Los Angeles City Council on Friday to water down a memorandum of understanding hammered out in May were defeated when they failed to muster enough votes in support. That leaves a three-year contract between the city and the association intact.

The agreement grants the association the function of promoting the zoo, along with arranging site rentals and catering. Those activities previously had been handled by zoo department staff.

Recent deep cuts to the zoo department's budget, however, have left it without the staff or expertise to draw up its own marketing and business plan, city Chief Administrative Officer Miguel Santana told the council. The city in 2007 budgeted $10.6 million for its zoo; that dwindled to $264,000 in the current fiscal year.

The association stepped forward to fill the gap, offering to spend $2 million a year on efforts to lure more visitors to the compound. The zoo attracts more than 1.5 million visitors a year, but city officials believe those numbers can go even higher, stabilizing the department's budget.

Under the agreement, the association will keep a greater portion of ticket revenue up to a capped amount. Any revenues over the cap will go back to the zoo for special exhibits and new development.

Zoo privatization was a goal of outgoing Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, but those efforts were defeated by union opposition. Union leaders Friday also opposed privatization of its marketing, saying the city was giving away too much revenue and power.

"What we're asking you to do is reject this agreement today, do your due diligence and get the best deal for the city," said Jason Elias, a spokesman for SEIU 721, which represents city workers.

Two separate motions aimed at adding more council scrutiny of the memorandum of understanding, one by Councilman Bernard C. Parks and the other by Councilman Tom La Bonge, were defeated.

The association must submit a marketing plan and have it approved by Nov. 1 or the agreement will be voided.

catherine.saillant@latimes.com

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