Sacramento Zoo is looking for its new home. These three neighborhoods lead the pack

The Sacramento Zoo is too big for its Land Park home and needs to move. But where is a there a site spacious enough? And where nearby residents won’t squawk or howl?

City and zoo planning officials will ask the City Council on Tuesday to approve hiring a consultant for $150,000 to spend the next six months analyzing a dozen potential sites around the city.

There are three early front-runners:

The Bing Maloney golf course, which sits just east of Freeport Boulevard in south Sacramento, could be a site. The city already owns the land. It would have to close the golf course.

The former Sleep Train Arena site in North Natomas has been floated by zoo officials as another likely landing spot. That site is owned by the Sacramento Kings, though, so a relocation there would depend on working out a deal with the team.

A third leading candidate site for a new zoo is the empty portion of North Natomas Regional Park, which has a large, unused swath. The city is planning to build an aquatics center on a portion of the site. The site has also been suggested as a potential soccer training facility and youth soccer center, should local investors win a Major League Soccer franchise.

City official Fran Halbakken said the city believes they would need somewhere between 60 and 100 acres for a new site, including parking, which is also lacking at the current Land Park facility.

The zoo, which opened in 1927, is packed onto a 15-acre site. The zoo’s small size and outdated pens have caused officials concern that they could lose their national accreditation from the Association of Zoos & Aquariums.

“The zoo urgently requires significant capital improvements – and increased space – to meet the evolving standards of animal care, conservation and education required to be a viable and accredited zoological facility,” officials write on their website explaining their desire to move.

Because of facility constraints, the zoo no longer houses hippopotami, tigers, baboons, elephants or bears, zoo director Jason Jacobs said.

“If the Sacramento Zoo continues to operate in its current location, it will have no reasonable choice but to become a niche zoo featuring a smaller variety of smaller animals,” its operators write. “The Sacramento Zoo believes that these animals and our community deserve better.”

Halbakken said it is unclear when the city and the zoo would be ready – and the have the funds available – to make the move. The upcoming analysis should clarify how much space would be needed, and potentially how much the move would cost.

“None of these sites are without additional questions,” she said. “We will have to do (neighborhood) outreach” to see what community residents think, as well as studies that deal with traffic and parking.

The city also likely will ask the consultant to look at Del Paso Regional Park, Executive Aiport (operated by the county, but the land is owned by the city), and undeveloped land north of North Natomas.

City officials say past reviews of other sites suggest they are not as likely for a zoo.

Those include Bartley Cavanaugh Golf Course and Haggin Oaks Golf Course, Cal Expo, Delta Shores Regional Park, Granite Regional Park, the Job Corps site in south Sacramento, and Sutter’s Landing Park.

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Tony Bizjak has been reporting for The Bee for 30 years. He covers transportation, housing and development and previously was the paper’s City Hall beat reporter.