Oregon Cities

Voters leaning toward Oregon Zoo bond in early returns

FILE: Chendra, a female Bornean elephant at the Oregon Zoo, stands next to elephant keeper Aimee Bischoff during a visual exam performed by Oregon Zoo head veterinarian Dr. Carlos Sanchez on August 18, 2023.

FILE: Chendra, a female Bornean elephant at the Oregon Zoo, stands next to elephant keeper Aimee Bischoff during a visual exam performed by Oregon Zoo head veterinarian Dr. Carlos Sanchez on August 18, 2023.

Sheraz Sadiq / OPB

A $380 million bond measure to benefit the Oregon Zoo was too close to call as of Wednesday morning.

Metro, the regional government that oversees the operations of the zoo, asked voters in Clackamas, Washington and Multnomah counties to pay for widespread infrastructure improvements across the zoo’s 64-acre property.

Related: Primary election updates: Get the latest news and see who’s leading as votes continue to be counted

The measure was pitched to voters as a renewal of the zoo’s 2008 package, a $125 million bond that passed with 60% support.

This latest bond would receive a tax of 8.5 cents per $1,000 of taxable property value for residents living in Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties. For example, owners of a home with an assessed value of $400,000 would owe $34 a year.

Supporters of the bond measure argued the zoo still needs more infrastructure improvements, with some exhibits being more than 50 years old. They also said it would improve water conservation throughout the campus.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars were raised in favor of the bond. Yes for the Oregon Zoo, the PAC behind the bond, raised more than $705,000. The vast majority of those funds came from the Oregon Zoo Foundation.

But it also received donations from various construction companies and labor unions.

Opponents of the bond, which include various animal rights organizations, argue the previous bond measure resulted in the unnecessary deaths of multiple elephants on zoo property, and that the previous bond did little to improve the lives of the animals there.

They also criticized a lack of specifics as to how the zoo plans to spend the bond proceeds. The Oregon Zoo does have a Draft Campus Plan that is meant to focus on areas not included in the 2008 bond, but the plan has not been finalized.

Zoo leaders have denied these claims, with Metro Councilor Christine Lewis calling the previous bond “a success.” Other supporters say it led to the reconstruction of the zoo’s veterinary hospital, which was previously in disrepair.

The Oregon Zoo, first founded in 1888, is one of the most popular attractions in the state with more than 1.3 million visitors last year. But that’s still a 23% decline from its 1.7 million visitors in 2018.

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