With time on my hands and laid up with a heavy cold, I spent four hours listening to dozens of honest citizens make their case why elephants belong in the wide open spaces of a sanctuary and not in zoo — and others who believe the $42 million elephant exhibit will be a wonderful habitat and enhance the L.A Zoo as a public asset.
They had their own experts and advocates. They each offered a compelling logic to their view. They all shared their concern for poor lonely Billy the Elephant who spends a quarter of the day neurotically nodding his head.
I don’t have an elephant in this race. I don’t know enough about it. I see validity in both sides’ positions.
What I do know is that the City Council of this city doesn’t know a whole lot more than I do despite having listened to this debate for years and having approved the elephant project two years ago. And here they were spending four hours listening to the public and debating each before sending the whole controversy to Bernard Parks’ Budget and Finance Committee to find out a few basic facts.
Not that they don’t already know that $12 million is already spent on the zoo project and the rest of the money will pretty much all have to spent for another exhibit even if the let Billy go to some far off place. And then there’s the cost of what some council members feel is a desperately needed 100-acre elephant sanctuary within the city limits or seeing live elephants will be the privilege of the affluent few.
Frankly, most of what the council members said was pure nonsense, posturing by Tony Cardenas for the “Free Billy” people and by Tom LaBonge for the L.A. Zoo lovers.
Only Herb Wesson made any sense at all, wondering about whether his colleagues or the impassioned public care as much about what happens to all the Billy the kids of the city, too many of whom are running wild on the streets and end up imprisoned like Billy the Elephant.
He noted that he and his colleagues didn’t spend anywhere near four hours debating the gang tax or gang policy for that matter. He could have added how they approved a boondoggle of a solar energy plan for the March ballot without knowing anything about it except that it would enrich the DWP union and their own campaign coffers.
You can go through all the major policies of this city — planning and development, traffic congestion community empowerment and most of all how the spectacular increase in city revenue in the past five years turned into a massive deficit — and you would see the same thing.
It’s all politics, a sleazy game of self-advantage and self-aggrandizement, a deception of the public.
And the result is they find Billy the Elephant the kind of issue to spend their time on even as a generation of children are lost to gangs, neighborhoods are overwhelmed by over-development, congestion gets worse, basic laws on housing go unenforced, roads and sidewalks are broken and the infrastructure is aging.
All the while the public is gouged for higher rates, taxes and fees.
Maybe those who think Billy the Elephant belongs in a sanctuary far away have got it right. Surely, the tens of thousands Billy the Grownups who have left the city over the last two decades to find sanctuary in Oregon, Washington, Nevada and Arizona think so.