Zoo costs rising

SAN FRANCISCANS ARE UPSET at the rising price of admission to their zoo. It's $7, and said to be one of the highest in the U.S. So what does that make us?

Admission to Woodland Park Zoo is now $8 ($9 if you live outside King County) and counting. So far the only howls of protest seem to be coming from the spotted hyena. But with admission costs climbing at 50 cents annually, increases over the next few years could make zoo tickets cost-prohibitive. Even the recent doubling of attendance due to the new baby elephant won't stave off higher prices.

"Attendance since the birth of our elephant is an anomaly," says zoo spokesperson Gigi Allianic. "Her attraction to the public can only be sustained temporarily." And being a "weather-driven zoo," Allianic says, "the exceptionally good weather during the winter months was a bonus"—but, again, an aberration. Expect ticket hikes as usual.

The incremental annual increases are necessary to match the inflationary costs of maintenance, the zoo says. It offers discounted senior, youth, and group prices, and the zoo's nonprofit fund-raising partner, the Zoo Society, serves up membership packages to help minimize the cost.

But along with $3.50 for parking, a family of four can fork over $30 before it sees its first Vietnamese walkingstick. Not only will those costs increase, the zoo is launching an energetic, 20-year, multimillion-dollar expansion plan that includes a 760-stall parking garage (which will hike parking fees). How the plan will be funded is yet to be determined, but taxpayers will carry the load.

In a perfect world, zoo admission would be free—sustained by private donations and a well-balanced city budget (we already have parking garages we can't afford). Instead, taxpayers pay to build it, run it, and use it. The alternatives are cutting costs or scaling back what is generally thought to be one of America's top-rate zoological gardens. As ever, it's the public's call—those who are interested enough to join in the droning budgetary process, anyway.

Woodland Park's leaders are thankful for the income bump they got from their 235-pound baby, Hansa (meaning "supreme happiness"). But at the gate, that happiness will fade along with the fickle crowd's koochie-koochies. "Most likely," says Allianic, "the interest in her will wane shortly after she turns a year old." At 700 pounds now, she's getting too big to be the zoo's golden goose.

RICK ANDERSON randerson@seattleweekly.com

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