The battle over pony rides at the Santa Monica Farmers Market is a classic study in how a tiny minority of activists can seize control of a city to destroy a business–and how a business owner, and the public, can fight back. The saga began last year, with a campaign by a radical animal rights activist to remove Tawni Angel’s pony rides and petting zoo from the market. In September 2014, the City Council voted in the dead of night to advise that the pony contract be dropped.
That activist, Marcy Winograd, claimed that the ponies were being abused. After police investigated and found no evidence to back up that claim, Winograd still continued to make it. (She is being sued for defamation as a result.)
Two members of the city council then introduced a motion aimed at shutting down the pony rides and petting zoo after 11 years at the market when the annual contract is up for renewal late this spring. The community, however, supports the pony rides.
A study sponsored by the city found overwhelming support for keeping the animals at the market. The “dot” survey, which used a technique developed at Oregon State University, asked customers to respond to questions placed around the market and to leave their own comments if they chose.
“More than half the open comments received were in favor of keeping the pony rides and petting farm,” the study’s authors reported–and of all comments on the pony rides, 92% were in favor.
“If the overwhelming majority of people want the pony ride and petting zoo to stay, why is it that the City Council is so fixated on getting rid of these animal activities?” asked Don Chomiak, who is Angel’s attorney, in a press release.
The city council could reconsider the decision to drop the pony rides and petting zoo, but one of the four council members who voted for the original decision–including Mayor Kevin McKeown–would have to change their vote to trigger a re-vote.