You can visit the Orange County Zoo, which features animals native to California and the U.S. and is located at the Irvine Park, for $2 per person plus a $3 parking fee during the week which increases to $5 on weekends. Ages 2 years and under are free. You can also buy an annual parking pass to all Orange County Parks and Beaches for $80.
Or you can take the family to the Santa Ana Zoo, which features animals that are mostly not native to California, for a whopping $10 per adult or $7 for children aged 3-7. Parking is free as are kids under 3.
How in the world did the Santa Ana Zoo end up charging five times what the Orange County Zoo charges? Well for one thing the Santa Ana Zoo’s Board of Directors, which includes 16 white people and only one Latino, most likely does not live in our city. And this Board has for years continued to expand the Zoo into bizarre directions – including an anteater exhibit and a new otter exhibit.
The Zoo’s costly expansions have ignored the well-being of the more than 50 monkeys who are in 16 exhibits that are so small that the Santa Ana Zoo recently lost its accreditation, when the Association of Zoos & Aquariums found that the monkey habitats were outdated and not consistent with modern zoological practices, as reported by the O.C. Register.
It took me years to convince the City of Santa Ana to move the Zoo’s free day from a weekday to a Sunday – the Zoo closes at 4 pm during the week and I felt that was very unfair to local residents who work and could not enjoy the free day. Now you can visit the Santa Ana Zoo for free on the third Sunday of the month – a day when families can actually go enjoy the zoo.
If you miss the free day good luck scraping up the money to take the entire family to the Santa Ana Zoo. And God forbid you buy any snacks there. A family of five would need to pony up $41 for admission alone.
The city in April approved a $200,000 contract to create a new zoo master plan, which was expected to provide a vision for upgrading the monkey exhibits. But the 20.5 acre Santa Ana Zoo’s budget is only $2.2 million a year. The Santa Barbara Zoo, which has 30 acres, has a $12 million annual budget. Unfortunately our current City Council has practically bankrupted our city – so the monkeys are going to remain sad for a while.
Can our Zoo be saved? I believe so. Here is what I suggest:
- Make the Zoo a private entity – sell it or spin it off. The City will probably have to retain the ownership of the land, which was donated by the Prentice Family on the condition that it be a Zoo with a ton of monkeys.
- If the City is going to fund the Zoo, and we cannot sell or spin it off, then each Council Member should get to appoint one member of the Board of Directors. That way local residents can finally have a say in how our tax money is spent at the Zoo.
- Roll back the admission fees! This will create more foot traffic – which could lead to more snack sales. I would like to see the Adult fee drop to $5 per person. Or add a family ticket package for say $15 for up to 6 people. Currently the Zoo’s annual Family Club is $89. Cut that to $49!
- Charge $1-2 for parking. That is fair and the money can add to the Zoo’s budget. But don’t use paid parking attendants. This can be done with machines or with youth volunteers.
- Encourage local high school students to volunteer at the Zoo. This could lead to college scholarship opportunities and good careers.
- Stop adding more animal exhibits and take care of the existing ones instead!
- Look for more corporate donors – you see this a lot at the San Diego and L.A. Zoos.
By the way the Santa Ana Zoo has for years refused to send me their press releases because I keep ripping their almost all-white Board of Directors. How silly! They need all the press they can get. Here in Southern California there is a lot to do. Folks can easily forget the Zoo – particularly when visiting it is so damn expensive!