Thursday, February 23, 2006

A Nonprofit Managing a Public Resource

What is exciting about this story in Sunday’s Bee is how effective the management of the Sacramento Zoo has become since 1997 when the city contracted with the Sacramento Zoological Society, a nonprofit organization, to assume Zoo management.

This is exactly the type of arrangement we advocate for the American River Parkway and we would anticipate the same results.

The public/private partnership works well because it combines the best elements of the public sector with the private and philanthropic sector, producing a huge win-win for the public.

Another major public resource managed by a nonprofit organization is Central Park in New York, which has been successfully managed by the Central Park Conservancy for many years.

Here is an excerpt on the speaker’s series the Zoological Society has brought to Sacramento, which is generating publicity, interest, and funding for the Zoo.

Zoo series stirs up debate, interest
Wednesday's sell-out lecture is the first of three to tackle the touchy topic of intelligent design.
By Edie Lau -- Bee Science Writer Published 2:15 am PST Sunday, February 19, 2006

The Sacramento Zoo's spring lecture series, traditionally a modest event geared for zoo docents, is sold out, with long waiting lists of people hoping to catch talks on the provocative subject of evolution and intelligent design.

Given the intense and potentially antagonistic interest, the zoo is taking the unusual step of hiring off-duty police to provide security during the event. The first of three lectures is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.

"We're going to be prepared for protest, just in case," said Robin Whittall, the zoo's education director.

The lectures will be presented by speakers whose views reflect that of mainstream science - that intelligent design is not science and does not qualify as a scientific alternative to evolution.
Whittall said the zoo has received about 50 calls, e-mail messages and letters this month from supporters and critics of the lecture series. One person told her: "The creationists will be there to ask the tough questions."

Adherents of intelligent design hold that some aspects of life are too complex to be explained by the evolutionary processes of natural selection and random genetic mutation.

Zoo officials stress that the lectures are not statements on whether an "intelligent designer" such as God exists.

"Evolution is about change (in species) over time, and it doesn't say anything about how things all got started in the first place," said Mary Healy, the zoo's executive director.

Nevertheless, a sizzling national debate on the topic, which came to a boil last fall in a Pennsylvania court trial over the teaching of intelligent design in public school science classes, has translated into unprecedented interest in the zoo's usually low-key spring talks.

A front-page article in The Bee on Feb. 3 describing the upcoming lectures and objections by some former zoo supporters prompted a rush on tickets, Whittall said.

In response, the zoo decided to allow sales of 100 tickets per talk, up from the 75 it had originally planned to sell.

"We recently completed construction that allows us to increase the capacity of the room, so that was good," Whittall said, adding, "It will be cozy."

The expansion isn't enough to meet demand: The waiting list for Wednesday's talk is 68 deep; 18 deep for a talk on March 22; and five deep for the last talk on April 26.

Zoo officials considered moving the event to a larger venue but decided to stay put.

"We felt like the lecture series is one of the amenities the zoo offers, sort of like (our) concert series," Healy said. "It's kind of about being at the zoo."

The decision not to stretch access further has become a controversial point in itself.

Mark Stillman, a civil engineer who lives about a mile from the zoo in Land Park and who was unable to get tickets to the first two lectures, questioned why the zoo can't do more to meet demand.

"They chose a very controversial topic that has a lot of public interest, and they didn't apparently plan for that," said Stillman, who did manage to get a ticket to the last talk.
Stillman suggested to Whittall that the zoo post a video recording or written transcript of the talks on its Web site. Whittall declined.