Zoo may trim hours to trim budget
Meredith May, Chronicle Staff Writer
Friday, June 19, 2009
The San Francisco Zoo is considering layoffs and reducing park hours to try to make up a $2.2 million revenue shortfall.
The fatal tiger mauling of a 17-year-old on Christmas Day 2007 has had a ripple effect that caused donors to pull back, visitors to stay home and led the zoo to spend on security safety upgrades.
It’s a triple whammy in one of the worst recessions on record.
The zoo is projecting a $17 million budget for the 2009-2010 fiscalyear, down $3 million from the current budget.
“There’s no question this is a direct result of the tiger incident,” said zoo spokeswoman Lora LaMarca.
The zoo, which lost $430,000 in canceled memberships after the attack as well as $1.2 million in corporate and individual donations, saw attendance drop by 20,831 in the 2008-2009 fiscal year, said Wayne Reading, the zoo’s chief financial officer.
In 2008, the zoo used bond funds to renovate the lion and tiger house, raising the glass wall surrounding the grotto 4 feet higher to 19 feet, and added electric fencing to the top. It dipped into its own funds to install night lighting, hire security guards, and review and revamp all its exhibits for safety, including the grizzly bear grotto.
Now zoo officials are discussing ways to save money, hoping they won’t have to lay any workers off in the fall.
Ideas on the table include reducing daily zoo hours from the current 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. to a 3 p.m. closing time.
Or they could close one Monday a month, or on rainy days when attendance is minimal, LaMarca said.
The zoo fell short of its projected 925,000 visitors this budget year, in part because its free first Wednesday of the month promotion was so popular. On a typical day, the zoo sees up to 8,000 visitors. At the height of the free program, 30,000 people crowded in. In September, the zoo restricted free Wednesdays to San Francisco residents only.
If the numbers don’t pencil out by August, some of the 225 zoo workers could lose their jobs.
“We are looking at some incentives for early retirement, in the hopes we don’t have to have layoffs,” LaMarca said.
The zoo is already in a hiring freeze, and has not replaced 20 vacant positions. Further cuts, if necessary, would first come from part-timers and “as-needed” workers, LaMarca said.
There’s also been talk of moving two aging snow leopards to the lion house, and closing down the feline conservation area where they now reside, to save on staff and maintenance costs.
“We might also close some play areas – spaces that don’t have animals in them. We don’t intend to reduce our animal collection.”