Following six months of vigorous free-the-pony campaigning, the ponies and petting zoo that have been a familiar sight at Santa Monica’s Main Street farmers market will have to look for greener fields mid next year, after the city voted Tuesday night to exclude animals from the weekly event.
In a council meeting that lasted well into the early hours of Wednesday morning, four Santa Monica City Council members voted-in measures that will see a cessation of all animal activities at the popular Sunday market.
The four council members were Ted Winterer, Gleam Davis, Tony Vazquez, and Kevin McKeown.
“This is a very important step in the right direction in terms of responding to the concerns of residents,” said Marcy Winograd, founder of pony-rights group Free the Pony.
“It’s a matter of community conscience and it’s up to the community to make a decision on that,” she added.
Winograd’s efforts to end animal involvement at the weekly market have been extensive, with a website, email campaigns, on-site protests and multiple call-to-actions.
Councilwoman Gleam Davis put forward a motion during the council meeting to direct city staff to either put out an RFP (request for proposal) or create a pilot educational program for the market that does not involve animals. She also approved the requested action with the modification to permit staff to reconsider the placement of activities in the farmers market and to additionally direct staff to look for alternative locations for live animal activities. Councilman Ted Winterer seconded the motions.
But while the vote was a windfall for some, owner of the ponies and proprietor of Tawni’s Ponies & Animal World Petting Zoo, Tawni Angel, said she feels like she has been shot in the heart following the decision.
Angel started her small business at the Santa Monica farmers market 11 years ago when she was 23 years old and has built a loyal following. Children wait in line each week to ride the ponies and Angel said many of them know the ponies by name.
Angel operates her business from her ranch in Fillmore, Ventura County where she houses a diverse range of farm animals.
“They are like my family, my team, we work together,” Angel said. She is now faced with the agonizing decision of whether or not she can keep them. The four hours of work the animals do each week enables her to look after them and earn a living.
“What the campaigners don’t realize is that is costs $70 a day to feed the ponies, without the market, I don’t know what I will do,” Angel explained, adding that she rescued many of her animals from trading markets, and the inevitable processing factories.
Councilman Kevin McKeown urged that a responsive not reactive stance be taken by the city and that the solution should be “process not protest”.
“These horses wouldn’t even be around if they weren’t taken care of by these people,” McKeown said.
Angel said she understands that farmers markets contracts are constantly under review, but to exclude her business completely based on a protest removes her livelihood and the opportunity for young children to enjoy the horses first hand.
After hearing pubic comment on the matter, ranging from pictures of childhood pony-memories to veterinarian advice, Councilwoman Davis said that she wanted a resolution on the issue as it was shrouded in controversy and the protesting at the market should come to an end, a rationale that has left some questioning the move.
Councilman Bob Holbrook left the session early.
“I didn’t stay for the pony item as it lacked merit and I wasn’t going to stay up past midnight,” Holbrook said. “I figured if they had four votes it would pass and if less than four it would fail. There was absolutely no evidence that the ponies suffered and I don’t think you make policy and law because half a dozen people believe that the ponies are unhappy. That’s why I am leaving the council. It has become to crazy for me.”
Acknowledging that he had received several vicious and unfounded attacks about Angel as an operator, McKeown added that he didn’t want to set a precedent where if someone makes enough noise, someone else loses their business.
Angel said that is exactly what has happened.
Santa Monica farmers market supervisor, Laura Avery, said they hope to pilot a range of educational programs to take the ponies’ place; including cooking, gardening and arts and crafts.
Santa Monica mayor Pam O’Connor wasn’t in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting. Mayor Pro Tem Terry O’Day, along with Holbrook, left the Council meeting before the item was discussed.