Privatization Proposed for Micke Grove Zoo in San Joaquin County, CA

Zachary K. Johnson of the Record Staff reports:

It has been six years since Micke Grove Zoo lost its national accreditation and more than three years since work to remake the eastern end of the zoo came to a halt, leaving a large, dormant construction site…

And now a newly-invigorated nonprofit organization is hoping to breathe new life into the public zoo with a plan to privatize it, reclaim its lost accreditation and guide the San Joaquin County institution into a bigger future.

The Micke Grove Zoological Society – longtime supporters of the zoo and its programs – would like to one day take over operations. The group has hired a consultant (Terry Maple) who is an expert in zoo privatization.

The Micke Grove Zoological Society is rightly identifying a national trend towards public-private partnerships for amenities like zoos, which was recently highlighted here in Reason Foundation’s Annual Privation Report 2011. According to some estimates, as many as three-quarters of all U.S. zoos are now privately operated, including cities like Sacramento, Fresno, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Houston and Seattle.

Issues at the Micke Grove Zoo in San Joaquin County, California are similar to those seen at many zoos across the country over the past few decades. In short, scarce taxpayer dollars have been directed towards high priorty services like law enforcement and education, while amenities such as zoos have been neglected. Johnson reports the Micke Grove Zoo lost its accreditation in 2006 due to its outdated facilities and lack of veterinary space.

Under the proposed partnership the private partner, the Micke Grove Zoological Society, would assume control of day-to-day operations and improve conditions for the animals in hopes of regaining the facility’s accreditation. Meanwhile the public partner, San Joaquin County, would retain ownership of the facility and retain oversite through the contract. Maple explains the plan saying, “This is going to be fun to take this zoo to the next level. It will be a smarter organization, a more flexible organization.”

For more on zoo partnerships, see the following extract from Annual Privatization Report 2011 entitled, “Privately Operated Zoos Now Considered the Standard.”

Harris Kenny is a state and local government policy analyst at Reason Foundation, a non-profit think tank advancing free minds and free markets.

Harris has worked alongside policymakers in Colorado, Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Arizona, Oregon and elsewhere to implement public policy solutions. Harris is currently serving as a member of the Local Authority Working Group of Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper's Amendment 64 Task Force, which is providing guidance on implementing recreational marijuana legalization. He conducts research on public finance, public-private partnerships, privatization, public safety, criminal justice and regulatory policy issues.

Harris has appeared on various television and radio outlets, such as National Public Radio, HuffPost Live, Al Jazeera, Voice of Russia and Colorado Public Television. His writing has been published in The Wall Street Journal, The Denver Post, The Sacramento Bee, The Orange County Register, Real Clear Markets,, and other print and online outlets. He also serves as co-editor of Reason Foundation's Annual Privatization Report ( and Innovators in Action ( publications.

Prior to joining Reason Foundation, Harris worked at the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation. He earned a BA in Economics from Pepperdine University, where he worked as a research assistant to Dr. Luisa Blanco at Pepperdine University's School of Public Policy.

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