Bay Area/ San Francisco/ Politics & Govt
AI Assisted Icon
Published on May 18, 2024
Panda Diplomacy Paused, SF Mayor's $25 Million Fundraising Plan Put on Hold Amid Oversight ConcernsSource: Chi King, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

San Francisco Mayor London Breed’s ambitious proposal to bring pandas to the San Francisco Zoo hit a snag as a committee of city supervisors voted to postpone a discussion on her resolution to allow the city to solicit donations aggressively. The Mayor’s plea to raise $25 million for the care and housing of these bears from China was stymied on Thursday when the Government Audit and Oversight Committee decided to table the issue, reported SFist.

The plan for the panda project includes constructing a new enclosure, which, alongside other associated expenses, may set the city's zoo back tens of millions. In her previous statements, Mayor Breed emphasized that no taxpayer dollars would be spent on the project, with fundraising to cover the costs solely. "We’re talking with representatives of the zoo," Breed said last month, according to SFist. "ç"

However, concerns arose among supervisors regarding potential conflicts of interest and the implications for the city departments, including the Recreation and Park Department and the San Francisco International Airport, to receive unlimited donations, even from donors conducting business with the city. Supervisor Ahsha Safaí, who is contending with Breed for the mayoral seat, criticized the timing of Breed's proposal. "This is about prioritizing children over pandas," Safaí said, referencing recent budget cuts to after-school programs as highlighted by the SF Standard.

United Airlines has shown an interest in contributing to the panda project, as Mayor Breed's Chief of Staff Sean Elsbernd disclosed. However, fundraising efforts must remain on hold until the board passes an exemption due to the airline's contracts with the airport. “That's why we continue to ensure only philanthropic [money] will go to support the pandas,” Elsbernd assured, as the SF Standard reported. Supervisors Connie Chan and Dean Preston pressed for greater transparency, with Preston demanding to know exactly which donors the office plans to approach.

Despite the roadblock, several influential Chinese American leaders have expressed interest in donating to the panda venture, though commitments are tentative. The city and zoo have yet to disclose a precise timeline or the specific costs for the panda arrivals. Mayor Breed must wait for the resolution to pass the board before she can start fundraising for her plan to make San Francisco the next U.S. city to host China's national animal.