Fri. Mar 31st, 2023

A membership renewal drive for the Friends of the Santa Ana Zoo had revenues of $15,279, of which the organization got $2,433, or less than 16 percent,” according to the O.C. Register.

The Friends of the Santa Ana Zoo offered up a lame excuse that the fee was paid to a company that helped them get renewal memberships.

Cathi Decker, the executive director of the Friends of Santa Ana Zoo,  said that they use Comnet, a membership telemarketing company that most Association of Zoos and Aquariums organizations use for membership renewals.

“It is NOT a FUNDRAISING company,” she told the O.C. Register by email. “Unfortunately they get categorized together but are completely separate, apples to oranges. FOSAZ does not pay Comnet hourly; they are paid a percentage of each expired Membership that they are able to renew.  They track a good ROI (return on investment) for us and for the other AZA zoos they work for.  FOSAZ does not hire them to do fundraising, nor have we ever.  They are solely focused on renewing previously paid Memberships.”

A good ROI?  In this case the Friends of the Santa Ana Zoo only got back 16 percent of the cost of the renewal memberships.  How the heck is that a good ROI?

I predicted constant fee hikes at the Santa Ana Zoo back in 2008 – when the cost for an adult entry was $6 – and that was after a fee hike.  I believe it was $4 as recently as 2007.  It is now $8 and kids have to pay $5.  I suspect the fees will be going up again next year.

Did you know that the Irvine Zoo, which is run by the County of Orange, only charges $2 admission?  Yes, you also have to pay a $3 vehicle admission fee.  But that is still a far better deal than what the Santa Ana Zoo is charging.

What happened to the Santa Ana Zoo?  Back in 2008, I called it the “Bowersization” of the Santa Ana Zoo.  The Bowers Museum used to be dedicated to local O.C. history, and it heavily emphasized Native Americans and the Spanish who settled this area.  It was quite inexpensive to visit the Bowers back then.  Now it is a “World Class” museum and it is no longer a cheap visit, although the Target Corporation does sponsor a free day once a month (it was this Sunday).

The Santa Ana Zoo also sponsors a free day, for local residents.  I fought for years to move it from a Tuesday, when working folks could not visit the Zoo as it closes at 5 pm, to a Sunday.  That change finally happened, no thanks to the Friends of the Santa Ana Zoo.  Santa Ana Parks and Recreation Agency Director Gerardo Mouet was the one who hammered through that change.  I spoke to a member of the Friends last weekend and he admitted that the change to a free Sunday has been a positive one for the Zoo and for the community, as I predicted it would be.

The Santa Ana Zoo unfortunately has gone down the Bowers road of late.  They spent a fortune to build the Las Pampas exhibit, which is dedicated to wildlife from South America, and they added an Amazon exhibit and a bird exhibit that also weren’t cheap.  Now they are talking about adding an Ocelot exhibit too.

The Santa Ana Zoo sits on land owned by the City of Santa Ana.  The land is part of Prentice Park.  In the early 1900’s, J.E. Prentice moved to Santa Ana with the vision that this part of California had great possibilities. He arrived as a horse and mule trader. Mr. Prentice later began citrus ranching and expanded his holdings. Within a few years, he became one of Santa Ana’s wealthiest men. In 1949, he donated 12 acres of his citrus ranch to Santa Ana for a park. With this donation, he stipulated that the city must keep at least 50 monkeys at all times.

Prentice said of the Zoo,  “I like it just like this. It’s a casual little zoo…”

Well, it was.  Now it isn’t – and there is no end in sight.  I fully expect that the Zoo will be charging $10 admission by next summer, while the Irvine Zoo charges $2.

Now the Friends of the Santa Ana Zoo want to take over the Zoo entirely.  I am not sure that is a good idea.  I think we might be better off combining with the Irvine Zoo into one County Zoo with two properties.  The County has already proven that they can run a Zoo for far less than what is being spent at the Santa Ana Zoo.

Then there is the diversity problem.  The Friends of the Santa Ana Zoo have a total of 26 board members, on three different boards.  Of that group two are minorities.  That’s right – just two.  This has been a problem for years and it hasn’t improved much at all.

The OC Parks Commission appears to be all-white too, but that is because we have an all-Republican Board of Supervisors.  Perhaps that will change if the Democrats can find someone to knock off Supervisor Janet Nguyen next year.

By Editor

The New Santa Ana blog has been covering news, events and politics in Santa Ana since 2009.

32 thoughts on “Outsourcing to the Friends of the Santa Ana Zoo may be a bad idea after all”
  1. ” In this case the Friends of the Santa Ana Zoo only got back 16 percent of the cost of the renewal memberships.”

    Indeed. And, if their claim that “most” AZA zoos use their services, one has to wonder how they would stand for that. Why not form an internal telemarketing group to do the same thing?

    Frankly, the $5.00/$8.00 fee is pretty reasonable, considering the number and variety of animals they have. But, it is a one-time adventure. Not something I would go back to several times a year like the San Diego Zoo or Wild Animal Park.

    Minorities on a board in a city where half the latinos on the city council consider themselves white? Hmmm.

    1. Our City Council reflects our city. It is an all Latino Council and several Council members are immigrants.

      The gate price was as low as $4 as recently as 2007. It has since doubled.

  2. “Then there is the diversity problem.”

    Hispanic or Latino of any race were 253,928 persons (78.2%). The majority population. That makes the zoo boards, who are not Hispanic or Latino a minority.

    Also means that the boards are over 90 percent minority.

    over 90 percent minority, doen’t that make you happy?

  3. Admin,

    The city of Santa Ana sets the price of admission to the zoo, not the Friends. The city also uses the revenue from admission to offset maintenance expenses. The largest costs for the zoo are city employee salaries and benefits, mostly, paid to the current zoo Director and full-time city employed animal keepers.

    In today’s economy, many of these city employed positions are overpaid and wasteful compared with the current job market. Outsourcing the management of the zoo to the Friends would eliminate this waste and make it more competitive and benefit the public.

    Additionally, I find your comments on diversity very ignorant and racist. Look around you Art. The world has changed since 1947.

    1. molly,

      But who drives the agenda of the Zoo’s ongoing expansions? And how can we trust the Friends to manage the Zoo when they only get a 16% ROI on their membership renewals?

      As for your final comment, the State of CA went majority minority in 2000, and Orange County followed suit in 2004. But you would not know that by looking at the Friends of the Zoo’s board member list – again only two minorities out of 26 board members. Here is an article re the County’s majority minority status

  4. True, and I was being facetious. Sometimes I look at them and their actions and wonder what they are thinking. Until recently, most of them had no problem with the Chase’s and Harrah gentrification scheme. It was only when the populus got into an uproar that they changed their tune.

    1. I think the economy had a lot to do with that, but Harrah’s OBP tower will bring thousands of much-needed jobs to the city. And like him or not, his refurbishment of some of our city’s key historical downtown buildings has made quite an impact.

  5. Admin,

    As you probably already know, getting a 1% return on a mail campaign is considered fabulous. Getting 16% on a telemarketing campaign is a good ROI and better than nothing. If people would gladly send in their membership renewals without any soliciting expense from the Friends – then your ROI would be 100% and unrealistic.

    Your comments about diversity lead me to believe that you think only a majority/minority board at the zoo can understand the needs of the community. This is because you don’t believe people can look beyond their own ethnocentric self interests.

    If you want to talk about a board with a lack of diversity, let’s start with the Santa Ana City Council.

    1. Our City Council includes members born in three different countries.

      If Zoo members perceived more value you would have higher renewal rates.

  6. “If you want to talk about a board with a lack of diversity, let’s start with the Santa Ana City Council.”


    The city council is an elected body chosen by the voters of Santa Ana. They are free to elect the candidates of their choosing. If they choose all Norwegians or all Latino’s that is their choice.

    However the Friends board isn’t elected by the voters at large and could much easier offer up a diverse membership.

  7. How do you know that the zoo board isn’t diverse or multicultural? Do you know the background of every member and their ethnic/cultural heritage? I hope you aren’t making your claim because of a persons skin color – or last name since that would certainly be prejudice.

    1. You’re right molly, they do look like members of a country club in the south. You will have to ask them. They have never responded to any of my email requests for information even though I am a resident of this city.

  8. Art, maybe what you should be asking, is why the Latino’s of the community not willing to work for free as volunteers?

    Those white people and the not so white people all work for free to help keep this great little Zoo. And they are also responsible for all the expensive new exhibits by raising the money to pay for them.

    I was just told that there is a $5,000.00 membership fee to be on the board, are you game? (and some of those family have given millions of dollars.)

    1. Then there is the problem. It isn’t that Latinos aren’t willing. Many simply cannot “buy in” to this country club.

      How do we know that these folks know how to reach out to Latinos? Or to the Vietnamese? That is the reason why they need board diversity in the first place!

      It is rather condescending to say that local residents don’t want to help. They just have not been engaged – and we know why…

  9. There is no way little Stevie McGuigan can afford to pay $5000 to serve on that board. So how did he become a member?

  10. just keep the zoo for the kids, period!! They need something besides the jacked up parks that the adults ruin here!!

  11. “Our City Council reflects our city. It is an all Latino Council and several Council members are immigrants.”….. Hmmmmm

    In 2007, I have proposed to Pulido to establish a European stile Beer garden in ZOO and Santa Ana brewery.

    As stupid muffler man as he is he was laughing.

    Art, you can’t do anything with Latino affirmative action council.

    Latinos are not entrepreneurial.

    You must accept it!

  12. Hi new to the boards…can’t believe it took me so long to find this, but look forward to keeping up on some local issues. Take it easy on the new one…

    First, is the net $2K received only on $15K of expired memberships or is that total received. For example, when I renew my membership without being contacted by a paid solicitor (i.e. through the mailer received), is that included in the $2K net? Hopefully that makes sense. If it is, then the ROI is outrageously low but if it is not, then it is still money in the pocket for the zoo, albeit very expensive to get…$12K of advertising would probably net a better return.

    Second, how is the Zoo Board elected/appointed? Seems like there would probably be a process. Probably not too unusual to have a required “donation” for some boards, but often there are hardship exceptions…

    1. I believe the $2K is renewals that were past due and were captures by the Zoo’s consultant. I agree that the advertising may be better but it would be even better to cut the membership cost in half and recoup the money through sales of concessions.

      The Zoo Board apparently is populated by members who pay $5,000 to get on the board. I don’t know exactly how they function as they never answer my email requests for info…

  13. “Serving beer in a children’s zoo seems ill-advised”…..



    Obviously you are Latino subscriber to this stupid notion that children (people) must be held in some out-official bubble. (affirmative action)

    That goes for everything in Santa Ana and that is why Santa Ana is bad city.

    Bad Mayor = Bad Manager = Bad City.

    Show me prosperous Santa Ana and I will submit.

  14. Admin- It would be great if cutting the costs in half would actually result in more concessions (which probably have about a 50%-75% profit margin +/-), but there really is no guarantee of that, and I know that if my membership were to be cut in half, I probably would not be willing to spend more on concessions at the zoo. Free day at anyplace would drive me to spend more, but not cutting of membership…I may not be normal though. Additionally, it is not like you would just cut for those who did not renew.

    IMO, the bigger issue would be getting the renewals in hand more efficiently either through volunteer phone drive. Spending $14K in order to make $2K is not a good rate of return, although there is zero risk associated with it since they actually are not spending any of the $14K up front.

  15. Admin- Do you know what the demographics of SA are? Obviously, I know that a majority of the city is of Latino heritage. But, what % is that versus White, Asian, and Black? Sorry if any of my terms are not PC. I am sure that there are some sections of SA that have pockets of especially White and Asian.

  16. There is about 10,000 registered intelligent white voters.

    In 2004 Mayoral election I got all of them.

    Pulido got all Mexicans, Latinos and other Riff Faff.

    That is why Latinos in Santa Ana are all poor — they vote la raza no brains.

  17. SF- Unfortunately, intelligent voters are the true minority regardless of ethnicity. This is not isolated to just SA either.

    To answer my own question: From the US Census in 2010, it looks like 78% of SA identifies themselves as Hispanic or Latino (includes whites who identify themselves as Hispanic/Latino). Approximately, 10% are Asian, 2% Black, 1% Native American. By exclusion, that would mean approximately 9% are non-Hispanic White.

    If the Mayor & CC were to be representative of the population, it seems that 5 or 6 of the 7 would be Hispanic while 1 or 2 would be non-Hispanic.

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