The Los Angeles City Council voted 11 to four on Wednesday to continue construction on the elephant exhibit at the Los Angeles Zoo.
The City Administrative Officer reported it would be more expensive to stop the project than to continue with the $42 million Pachyderm Forest.
Critics of the Pachyderm Forest have suggested sending Billy to the PAWS sanctuary in Northern California. Animal rights activist Bob Barker, the former host of "The Price is Right," has pledged $1.5 million to transport Billy. In addition to Barker, actresses Lily Tomlin, Kathy Joosten and Mariana Tosca have spoken out against the exhibit.
On the other side, actress Betty White, best known for her role on TV's old "The Golden Girls" series, and guitarist Slash of Velvet Revolver and formerly of Guns N' Roses have voiced support for the zoo.
The issue has aroused passion, generating a lawsuit, three months of public debate, protest rallies at Los Angeles City Hall and dueling campaigns featuring celebrities.
The Pachyderm Forest at the Los Angeles Zoo was approved by the City Council in 2006. A year later, actor Robert Culp and real estate agent Aaron Leider sued the city to stop the project, alleging zoo officials had abused elephants by withholding medical care and keeping them in confined spaces.
The lawsuit was eventually dismissed by a Los Angeles Superior Court judge who said the issues were political, not legal.
Councilman Tony Cardenas took on the issue, urging his colleagues to end construction on the Pachyderm Exhibit, citing concerns over the health of the elephants. Critics of zoos that house elephants say the confinement causes them depression and dramatically shortens their lives.
Last month, the council voted 13-2 to suspend work on the Pachyderm Forest, a third of which is complete. The $42 million exhibit is designed to house up to five Asian elephants and three of their offspring in a 3-1/2 acre area featuring two pools and a waterfall.
The work stoppage was designed to give Councilman Tom LaBonge, chair of the Arts, Parks, Health and Aging Committee, time to look at alternative funding sources and other uses for the space in the event the city does not finish the exhibit.
LaBonge, a vocal supporter of the zoo, recommended Tuesday that the city continue working on the exhibit.
"I know that absolutely everybody loves elephants in this room ... everybody believes they're doing the right thing," LaBonge said at the conclusion of the 90-minute hearing.
The Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association, which has already donated $4.8 million to the elephant exhibit, has pledged $14 million to pay down the debt on one source of funds or pay the city $6 million upon the completion of the Pachyderm Forest.
That upfront payment would allow the city to borrow less money for the exhibit.
An alternative use for the Pachyderm Forest would be to transform it into multiple exhibits for rhinoceroses, cranes, hippopotami and giraffes, according to the Bureau of Engineering. Doing so would cost at least $35 million and could take as long as five years.
Cardenas introduced his own alternative to turn the space into a multi-species "forest" housing giraffes, zebras, antelopes, gazelles, rhinos, as well as ostriches, bustards and other birds.
No budget or timeline have been produced in support of the Cardenas plan, which was crafted by former Seattle Woodland Park Zoo director David Hancocks. Cardenas' office, however, said care for the animals he envisions would be significantly cheaper than for elephants.