By Don Chomiak
This past Sunday, Tawnis Ponies and Petting Farm, Inc. ended its 12-year tenure at the Main Street Farmer’s Market. Last September, the Santa Monica City Council voted to give preference to non-animal activities at the market once Tawni’s contract ended this month. In expelling Tawnis Ponies, the Council ignores the will of the people in the fine tradition of cronyism.
In April 2014, protestors led by local political activist Marcy Winograd began demonstrations demanding the City terminate Tawnis Ponies’ contract, claiming that pony rides and petting zoos are animal abuse.
On May 4, 2014, Ms. Winograd called the police, claiming that a pony at the market was injured. An officer from the SMPD’s Animal Control Unit immediately investigated and the City advised Ms. Winograd on May 9th that the police found the ponies were healthy.
Despite this finding, on May 11, 2014, Ms. Winograd demanded in an e-mail that the City revoke Tawnis Ponies’ business license for Penal Code violations (the crime of animal abuse), because some of Tawni’s ponies had cracked hooves, a serious injury that renders the animal lame.
In making this accusation, Ms. Winograd relied on the word of Ralph Oden, a 60-year-old folk singer who claimed he saw a pony with a cracked hoof on May 11, 2014. Mr. Oden is apparently an expert because he spent years as a teenager “caring for horses.” However, the SMPD inspected Tawnis Ponies on May 4, 11 and 18, 2014 and found no cracked hooves. Despite being aware of the SMPD’s findings, Ms. Winograd continued to claim that Tawni’s ponies had cracked hooves.
Ms. Winograd then tried a new approach. On May 29, 2014, she downloaded photos and a political cartoon from the Facebook account of Tawni’s husband and attached them to an e-mail to city officials and councilmembers. In this e-mail, Ms. Winograd described “racially-tainted and sexist references” and argued the City should not be doing business with people like Tawni Angel and her husband.
The next day, Ms. Winograd e-mailed city officials a photo of Tawni Angel taken during a ski weekend in Mammoth that shows Tawni holding a bottle of vodka. In this e-mail, Ms. Winograd wrote, “I missed sending this photo of Tawni Angel, the pony ride and petting zoo operator, boozing it up in the morning.” Ms. Winograd then added: “I recognize that people have a right to free speech and to own guns, but are these the images with which we want to brand our market, particularly since Tawni and her husband work directly with small children of all ethnicities? Please close this unsavory animal sideshow – and find something far more uplifting for our children.”
Ms. Winograd ran for Congress in 2010. Facebook posts indicate that she and multiple city council members are in the same social circle and have maintained relationships beyond that of councilmember and constituent for some time. Councilmembers Ted Winterer and Gleam Davis sponsored the proposal to rid the market of Tawnis Ponies. They also happen to be friends with Marcy Winograd on Facebook. In his response to Ms. Winograd’s May 29th e-mail discussed above, Mr. Winterer described Tawni Angel and her husband as “[d]istasteful, but it’s not a crime to be a redneck.”
Given his personal bias and relationship with Ms. Winograd, shouldn’t Ted Winterer have abstained from the September vote and had someone else sponsor the proposal to rid the market of Tawnis Ponies? Or was it that the measure would not have passed without his support and that of Ms. Davis?
The plot thickens when one considers the results of the City’s February 15, 2015 survey of customers at the Farmer’s Market, which showed that 92 percent of those who commented on the pony ride and petting zoo favored keeping Tawnis Ponies at the market. Finally, this farmers market is located in the Ocean Park neighborhood of Santa Monica. On March 20, 2015, the Board of Directors of the Ocean Park Association sent a letter to the City Council asking the council to change its mind and keep Tawni’s pony ride and petting zoo. Apparently, this request, like the results of the City’s own survey, fell on deaf ears.
Despite these events, joy still prevailed on Sunday, as 250 or so children and their parents alike relished one last ride on a pony or one last visit with Tawni’s animals, even if that joy was tinged with sadness for those who knew this was the end for these two beloved attractions at the Main Street Farmers Market.
Don Chomiak is the attorney representing Tawni Angel in her defamation lawsuit against Marcy Winograd.