The Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce swiftly denounced a vendor, claiming to be a pet rescue nonprofit, that sold T-shirts, hats, and stickers with right-wing slogans during the Hospitality Night festivities on Dec. 3.
Randi Berger, founder and president of Tarzana-based Recycled Pets Rescue, furnished stickers emblazoned with “COVIDIOT” and “Remember. Only You Can Prevent Communism!” after Chamber staffers conducted their initial check-in. These and other right-wing messages on display weren’t welcomed by many residents of Laguna Beach who overwhelmingly voted for Joe Biden in 2020.
“On behalf of the Laguna Beach Chamber, we would like to issue a sincere apology to all of our guests,” Sandy Morales, CEO and president of the Laguna Beach Chamber, said in a statement Sunday. “We do not endorse nor support any political propaganda or political activities at any of our events. Our goal is to help local businesses connect with our community by creating safe, welcoming, and family-oriented events and programs.”
Morales added that Recycled Pets Rescue will be banned as a Laguna Beach Chamber member and will not be able to participate in any future events the Chamber hosts. The nonprofit was referred by an ambassador and completed an application to join the Chamber of Commerce on Friday to participate in Hospitality Night, she said.
“We feel we were duped, and it is a painful learning experience,” Morales wrote in an email to city officials.
Recycled Pets Rescue is a nonprofit dedicated to rescuing and rehabilitating mostly senior and abused animals in need, not a political organization, Berger said in a prepared statement Monday.
“To aid in fundraising, we recieve items from donors—some from across the political spectrum—to offer at different events in addition to a variety of other items,” Berger wrote. “100% of the proceeds from those sales [go] to help animals, and although we regret if any of those items offended a few of those attending the event, rest assured that their sales help a worthy and humane cause.”
Although Recycled Pets Rescue claims to have been established in 1987, the IRS didn’t grant it tax-exempt status until 2003, according to guidestar.org. Berger has also been listed as the nonprofit’s only board member for at least the last three years.
Tax documents also show that the nonprofit has been running at a deficit over the last few years. In 2019, the organization ended the year more than $15,000 in the red.
The Hospitality Night caper has reinvigorated an ongoing debate about political activity at events supported with city taxpayer dollars.
James Grossberg, a Laguna Beach resident and attorney, was among the residents who fired off complaints to city officials about the sale of political propaganda at a holiday celebration on public property.
“I applaud the Chamber for acting promptly to recognize the gravity of this incident and taking steps to keep it from recurring,” Grossberg said. “However, I am still awaiting a response to my question to Sandy Morales about the identity of the ambassador, which I believe is important. The public and news media deserve to know the ambassador’s identity and precisely what role he or she played in this affair, especially given that the Chamber itself describes its ambassadors as ‘business leaders.’”
Berger misrepresented that she was referred by a Chamber ambassador, Morales said in a statement Tuesday.
“After further investigation and in speaking with our Ambassador, she does not know Randi Berger and has never talked to her,” Morales wrote. “This was just another way for Randi to make it seem like she was connected to Laguna.”
Councilmember Peter Blake said it was unfortunate that a vendor misrepresented their cause to gain entry to Hospitality Night and called out other political activity at civic events.
“That same night there was a homeless advocate with a table soliciting donations right next to Santa on Ocean and recently a PAC was collecting signatures at a Veterans Day function,” Blake wrote in an email. “Although these are all very different, all of them acted with poor judgment and a lack of sensitivity to their host’s event.”
The Veterans Day celebration at Monument Point was organized by local veteran service organizations and the Laguna Beach Police Department Honor Guard presented the colors.
Katy Moss, a resident and 40-year businessperson in Laguna Beach, said Morales needs to resign over the Dec. 3 mishap.
“It’s just inappropriate for children to be subjected to this misinformation, hate, and vulgar words,” Moss said. “I think there needs to be an explanation as to why no one, including the executive director, staff, and volunteers weren’t monitoring what was happening at Hospitality Night.”View Our User Comment Policy