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Energy crisis hits Santa Barbara Zoo

Electricity costs expected to jump 46%



California's energy crisis is hitting an unexpected place -- the Santa Barbara Zoo.

The zoo recently imposed a parking fee and raised its daily admission prices because the facility's electric bills are expected to increase by nearly 50 percent, on top of an already tight operating budget.

Parking previously was free. General admission for adults was raised last month from $7 to $8. Annual memberships also increased by $5 each; those currently range from about $40 to $60 for individual and family packages.

The $2 parking fee, which went into effect March 1, is based on comparable costs in the city, said zoo director Rich Block. Fee payment is on the honor system.

The energy crisis also prompted the San Diego Zoo and to raise its fees, too. Beginning May 3, a $1.50 "energy assistance fee" will be tacked onto the zoo's $19.50 admission fee. It will remain until energy prices stabilize.

At the Santa Barbara Zoo, parking is still free for zoo members, volunteers, school buses, pre-reserved groups and private zoo events such as weddings.

There have been ''very few'' complaints about the fee, which zoo officials said was approved before the current energy crisis hit home.

Block said, "The parking fees will help to offset the increase in electricity costs."

The zoo anticipates a 46 percent increase in its electric bill, he said, noting the hike has come entirely from a rate increase. "Our use hasn't gone up. We're paying more for utilities."

Currently the annual electric bill is about $80,000. "We expect it to go to $120,000," he said.

Electricity is used to refrigerate feed for animals and for operating aquatic equipment such as a pump for the sea lion filtration system. Heating costs are negligible, he said. Also future projects will take energy into consideration.

Currently the zoo has a $5 million annual budget but has operated at a deficit the past three years, he said.

The zoo is "very conscious'' about keeping admission prices within the means of residents, he said, calling the fee consistent with the cost of going to a movie. There has been no change in attendance since the higher fees were imposed, he said.

"We absolutely depend on attendance," he said, with Friday, Saturday and Sunday the big days. "Even a forecast of rain can hurt our attendance."

He suggested one cost-saver: For 25 cents, people can ride a shuttle bus, which stops at the zoo entrance.

Apparently, zoo-goers aren't packing the side streets to avoid the fee. There has been little effect on nearby streets already impacted by popular Dwight Murphy Field and East Beach, said city officials. "We haven't heard any complaints from the surrounding area,'' said Derek Rapp, supervising transportation engineer.

George Gerth, streets, parking and transportation operations manager for the city, expects the parking fee "won't affect things too much. It's my experience that people don't like to walk very far."

-- Martin Thompson (, April 30, 2001


Wait until the zoos that have recently installed Polar Bears get their bills! The bears will be headed back to the North country where they came from.

-- Taz (, April 30, 2001.

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