Last week, in the dead of night, the city council of Santa Monica, California voted to end its contract with a businesswoman who stages pony rides and a petting zoo at the weekly farmers’ market on Main Street.
There was no particular reason to end the contract. The pony rides are beloved by local children, especially girls (like my own), who line up every Sunday for their chance in the saddle.
As usual in this near-paradise of a city, it took just one radical gadfly to ruin it all.
That gadfly is one Marcy Winograd, a local resident and L.A. public school teacher who claimed that the ponies are being abused by being “tethered”. She circulated a moveon.org petition earlier this year: “Shut Down Pony Rides and Petting Zoos in Santa Monica.”
Supporters of the pony rides fired back with a petition of their own, which gathered three times as many signatures in the same time. The vendor, Tawni Angel, seemed to have won–along with hundreds of enthusiastic kids (and their parents).
Hardly. It was the involvement of children, Winograd said in April, that made the pony rides even more troubling.
“What would we call it if human beings were forced to do this? We would call it torture,” she told the Santa Monica Daily Press in April.
In May, Winograd organized a protest at the farmers’ market (and drew all of six participants). She said she wanted to close down the pony rides so that Santa Monica’s animal rights policies would “serve as models for the rest of the nation.”
That is a frequent refrain among Santa Monica’s hardened radicals, who believe that if they can push the boundaries of progressivism–and reason–then the world may soon follow.
And Winograd made it personal: she “launched a full-fledged attack on Angel’s business–protesting at the Farmers’ Market, shedding light on Angel’s expired business license (since remedied), and citing comments and videos posted on the Facebook pages of Angel and her husband.”
Still, Tawni’s Ponies seemed likely to survive–until four members of the city council voted to end the city’s contract as of May 2015, likely putting Tawni–and her handful of volunteers, most female–out of business.
The vote was held at 1:30 a.m. on a Tuesday night/Wednesday morning, with several members of the council absent, and not a single dissenting vote. Winograd was backed by fellow animal rights activists, from parts unknown. Angel, who apparently had little advance notice of the debate, mustered her father, her father-in-law, and a few other supporters.
How many parents with children can make a 1:30 a.m. vote?
Several members of the council had already gone home themselves at midnight, on the apparent understanding that while those who had waited to speak should be able to do so, the council should wait to make any binding decisions.
Video of the meeting (which begins here at roughly 5:20:00) shows Angel and her family making sober, reasonable presentations, noting their compliance with all inspections and state laws, and describing the benefit their business brings to children.
Angel defended her treatment of the animals, and detailed for the council how Winograd had made a slew of false accusations in the press.
A local grandmother supported Angel, saying the council was making the town look foolish. “Those ponies are good for these kids…I’m pretty liberal, but this is just ridiculous,” she said.
Winograd’s presentation was a litany of nonsensical claims. “This isn’t a fight I wanted to have,” she said, claiming that other people’s anguish prompted her to act.
“Tonight we are deciding do we want to be a community that forces ponies, tethered to a metal bar, to go around and around in circles…what are we teaching our children?”
She likened the pony rides and petting zoo to human slavery. “Animals really…I don’t think they should be for profit…for our amusement.”
Instead of ponies, she said, children should be encouraged to pursue art projects–i.e. exactly what they do all week in school, in day care, or at home: “Imagine, as you walk into this market, instead of tethered animals, trapped animals, you see children expressing their artistic talents.”
She was backed up by her posse, some of whom claimed ponies are “sentient beings.” One complained about imaginary health risks, another about smells–the “putrifying pee and poo.”
Ultimately, however, the council backed Winograd. The reason? Not that there was any actual abuse of the ponies–as the members of the council sponsoring the resolution admitted.
No–the council canceled the ponies because it was uncomfortable with the ginned-up controversy.
“It’s become an issue in the community,” said council member Gleam Davis, claiming (falsely) that there had been confrontations at the farmers’ market “every Sunday.”
Effectively, the council rewarded Winograd for her harassing tactics.
Davis added that she supported the effort to get rid of the pony rides because she wanted to have more space “to sit and eat my omelette.”
But Mayor Pam O’Connor, who is up for re-election this year and missed the meeting, told Breitbart News via email: “I think the Council was wrong to give that direction [to city staff regarding the pony rides] without having more process and getting more info.”
O’Connor noted that the four council members who were present “leapt to a decision,” and “veered from the usual practice” of waiting for more public discussion of a contentious issue of great interest to members of the community.
It was not the first time the council had bowed to a small minority, to a “heckler’s veto.”
It did the same recently when canceling the traditional nativity display in Palisades Park, lest atheists–from out of town!–be offended. It did the same when canceling public service announcements on buses, lest local gay residents be offended by ads placed by Christian groups.
The council seems to appease every crank who claims offense–regardless of majority will or individual liberty.
There is, of course, a remedy: the electorate can vote out the council members who voted to end the pony rides. But Kevin McKeown is the only one facing the electorate this year, and he has already won the endorsement of the local Democratic Party, which is a guarantee of victory.
Somehow, after decrying the whole process as unfair, McKeown voted for the resolution anyway. And Davis refused even to consider an amendment that would have allowed small animals. So after May 2015, children must be content with “a non-animal activity.”
And hundreds of parents will have to explain to their confused kids how it was that local politicians, at the behest of radical activists, swapped their beloved ponies for crayons.
Senior Editor-at-Large Joel B. Pollak edits Breitbart California and is the author of the forthcoming ebook, Wacko Birds: The Fall (and Rise) of the Tea Party, available for Amazon Kindle.