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CITY HALL — And now the moment you’ve all been waiting for: A discussion by the city’s top elected officials about pony rides at the Farmers’ Market.
Two City Council members have requested that, upon the expiration of City Hall’s contract with a pony ride and petting zoo vendor at the Main Street Farmers’ Market, preference be given to a vendors offering “non-animal activities.”
Former congressional candidate Marcy Winograd has been leading a charge against the pony rides since April, claiming that they teach children that it’s acceptable to mistreat animals.
Vendor Tawni Angel, owner of Tawni’s Ponies, claims that the animals are not being abused, that they are happiest working, that many of her petting zoo animals have been rescued from slaughter, and that they teach children how to interact with animals. She’s been at the market since 2003.
Winograd’s online petition, posted to MoveOn.org, has slowly gained 1,250 signatures — many from notable residents. She initially called for an all-out ban of pony rides in the city.
Council members Gleam Davis and Ted Winterer have asked that the council discuss the issue at Tuesday’s meeting.
Their requests asks that City Manager to issue a vendor request “for children’s-oriented activities at the ingress/egress of the Main Street Farmers Market that gives preference to partners in our Buy Local initiative and non-animal activities, such as painting, arts and crafts, gardening, cooking, food preparation and decoration.”
“If the bids do not meet with Council’s approval,” the item states, “Council may reserve the entrance to the Main Street market for open space or dining.”
Angel’s contract expires in May.
Winterer said that residents have been troubled by the petting zoo and pony rides for years. He’s met people who boycott the Sunday Farmers’ Market because of their concerns about the animals’ welfare, he said.
“Since the worries about the animals’ well-being have been more frequently and vocally expressed in recent months,” Winterer said, “and since the contract with the current vendor expires next year, it seemed the right time to explore the options for different activities at this site and to then have a public discussion of what choice best serves the community’s needs.”
Winograd is happy with Winterer and Davis’ proposal.
“I think the council members are wise not to push for a ban on pony rides, but to instead suggest alternative children’s activities that support our city’s ‘Buy Local’ initiative,” she said.
Winograd has 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.
“Tawni has been at this for many years and has a lot of experience,” Farmers’ Market supervisor Laura Avery told the Daily Press when the issue first arose.
Winograd doesn’t see the proposal as the end of all pony rides in Santa Monica.
“Local residents could still ride ponies, for example, at Virginia Park, a large enough venue to allow the ponies to be walked on gentle leads, not tethered to a metal carousel a few feet from a busy restaurant,” she said. “It’s exciting to imagine the possibilities for the Main Street Farmers’ Market, where children with paint brushes in hand could create seascapes and even perform with an open mike.”
Angel said she feels that the proposal is unfairly discriminative against her business. She plans to rally fans of the pony rides and petting zoo at Sunday’s Farmers’ Market and then attend Tuesday’s meeting to express her frustration.
“I have literally devoted my life to creating a relationship between ‘Santa Monica city kids’ and ‘farm animals,'” she said in an e-mail. “They are both just good for your soul! I am blessed and grateful to have the opportunity to combine my loves.”
Angel is considering a lawsuit against Winograd. She says that 80 percent of her business comes from the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market.
“I am so sorry that Marcy Winograd has been able to lie, and exaggerate, to convince so many people that my animals are mistreated all due to some political agenda,” she said.
In 1999, a previous Farmers’ Market pony ride operator was arrested by SMPD after it was discovered her animals were living in squalor, according to the Los Angeles Times archives.
Santa Monica is no stranger to debating the rights of animals. In 2009, council banned the controversial veterinary procedure of clipping the claws of cats.

dave@www.smdp.com

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