Right-wing vendor ‘duped’ its way into Laguna Hospitality Night, dampening season for some

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A booth installed by Recycled Pets Rescue sold right-wing stickers during Laguna Beach Hospitality Night on Dec. 3. Photo courtesy of @dowdytownlagunabeach

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.”

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16 COMMENTS

  1. The chamber will need to monitor these events in the future. “After they checked”, these materials went out. Obviously this table was set on duplicity before anything else. Please circle around in the future or at least leave a contact number posted prominently for “day of event” issues.
    This was nothing like ballot signing or homeless helping. This was a group bent on being seen despite rules to the contrary. This was a group with insults and rudeness to share with all. One person I spoke with was ridiculed for “wearing a mask”.
    I’m proud to be a fully vaxxed and boosted covidiot.

  2. Good to see city leadership joining the Democrat party and the Biden Administration’s assault on our first amendment rights and silencing of conservative points of view, labeling anything contrary as disinformation. Regardless of the way in which it was displayed, despite the organizations profitability, they have every right to display and/or sell their stickers. Maybe the culprit should be placed in solitary confinement inside LBPD for several months, that’ll teach him!

  3. I was appalled too. But let’s not let it overshadow what was otherwise an awesome celebration of community – perhaps our best ever. The Chamber did an outstanding job. Apology accepted. Let’s move on and not engage in any hysterical cancel culture please.

  4. There is a big difference between collecting signatures for ballot initiatives protected by both State law and the first Amendment of the Bill of Rights, and a bait-and-switch animal rescue organization as a FRONT to sell Trump materials to raise money for the man’s large business debts. My condolences to the Chamber for having their good intentions and joyous Hospitality Night deceived and ripped off by this vendor. Lesson learned: Triangulate through research of three unrelated sources any vendor or consultant used by the Chamber or City.

  5. Deborah Laughton Weiss, methinks you doth protest too much. Nobody was impugning your City Councilman husband’s “Laguna Residents First” PAC’s relentless solicitation of signatures to get your ballot initiative (aimed at ossifying our city’s progress) on the election rolls next year. But now that you mention it, your group does a disservice to our community when it shows up at joyous, non-partisan community events like the concerts in Bluebird Park, or Hospitality Night. What’s next, Locals Night at the Sawdust? It’s enough that your minions are going door to door, online, at the farmers market and the post office to spread disinformation such as our city wanting to dismantle our height limits, or falsely portraying the ordinance as only targeting mega development when in fact it’s so granular it would force the community to sometimes vote on a single restaurant (a complete waste of time and resources). It just tarnishes the goodwill of our community when your husband is at Bluebird Park with a clipboard, haranguing people to sign the petition, when all they want to do is come outdoors and have a good time. But I guess you are feeling guilty by association?

  6. Thank you, Billy Fried, for giving me the opportunity to present the facts. If you read the insightful article by Langhorne, you would see the following quote in that article: >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.”< My response was to correct CC's Blake claim that a bait-and-switch from a puppy rescue organization to a political table selling Trump and anti-COVID vaccine merchandise was equivalent to First Amendment rights to petition the government. Let me try to simplify it: One was based on deception, and the other was not. As for the Ballot Initiative, it provides Laguna Residents with the same rights as our neighbors in Dana Point now enjoy–along with those in Newport Beach and Costa Mesa. Why shouldn't we have the same rights? Laguna residents can read and make decisions as well as our neighbors. Read and get the facts at http://www.lagunaresidentsfirst.org.

  7. Billy why are you lying again and continuing with personal attacks? You still haven’t read the Ballot Initiative I see. It deals with mega commercial developments in the downtown, along PCH and in the Canyon. Laughable that you think it’s about a single restaurant. Afraid you will lose potential tourists for your tourist oriented business??? And I guess you didn’t read the article because it was Blake (not “nobody”), you know – your buddy now despite his potty mouth – who made the comment about it being inappropriate at the Veterans Day event to have a table on the sidewalk. Residents have EVERY right to be anywhere in town to collect signatures at civic events. That’s where you’ll find civic minded people. In your diatribe it sounds like you are against democracy if it doesn’t conform to your way of thinking. Haranguing is a pretty strong word – I know George Weiss and he doesn’t do harangue. But your continual lies and misinformation do seem like haranguing to me.

  8. HHHHHmmmmmmm…..the the entities and/or peoples that are in charge of the Laguna Hospitality Night….didn’t ATTEND the event? They only learned of this egregious manner of duping Saturday morning? No one within the circle of those who put on the show actually WATCHED the show…???

    Offering after the fact that they(Sandy and/or the Chamber of Commerce) would have shut them down if they had witnessed this table of blabbering crap is way TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE.

    Was no one in charge of the event THERE?????

  9. Reminds me of when “Left Wing” George Weiss tried to ruin a day of fun by bringing a political sign to a Circus performance for the community. I had to explain to my children that he was not a crazy or protesting at their park and Laguna Beach was not in danger and the word “Save” was used to be dramatic!

  10. Reading these comments proves the secret to success is sincerity. Once you’ve learned how to fake that you’ve got it made in Laguna Beach.

  11. I was there at the Laguna Hospitality Night, this article is completely biased & one sided. How are pet remedies, rainbow flags, snoopy pet bandanas & pet Christmas clothes, that were all at the booth, “Right Wing”? It appears this article had a delusional agenda to promote intolerance & hate for animals. It was completely irresponsible writing this warped story, the writer should have researched the information first instead of having an agenda on the outcome of this article. A retracted story is absolutely necessary now! Please advise when the Laguna Beach community will be seeing a retraction of this biased story.

  12. Looks like a hit piece to me. Anybody that doesn’t agree with the left the left attacks. I’m so sick of the cancel culture vultures! This lady is doing a great thing and because this outlet doesn’t agree with her politics you go and attack her. Just disgusting!

  13. To those commentators on the article about the bait and switch vendor’s table at Laguna’s Hospitality Night: When did it become okay to lie to get your way? Is that what you think America’s great democracy is all about: winning by lying? The vendor tied up an innocent puppy at her table, told our City’s Chamber that her table (right outside the children’s popular Candy Baron) would be DEVOTED to a dog rescue program, and after her table was checked by the Chamber, SWITCHED to anti-vaccination propaganda and materials devoted to raising money to pay off the past president and divider’s debts. Not big on goodwill to all and playing by the rules. May Santa put coal in her stocking, just like she did to the kids who thought they were going to learn how to help animals.

  14. Hey all, this is Randi Berger and I trust this comment will be put through for the integrity of this paper, Laguna, Unity and an All Volunteer rescue that has been in existence for over 30 years helping thousands of abused, sick and senior pets throughout the country. I agree with some of this article. Morales should resign. She fabricated several statements in an effort to preserve her position with the Chamber of commerce and took no responsibility for her own actions regarding hospitality night. Sadly, our experience with Morales, who stated via email that this was her event, was nothing but positive until 1 or 2 people complained with louder voices than the thousands who thanked us for being there.
    Morales claimed I stated I was referred by a chamber ambassador but will have no proof of this and has failed to provide the name she claims I used in an effort to secure a booth. Morales was the one at our booth on hospitality night and gave us her card, but claimed it was her event staff, again not providing any name. Regardless, at NO time during the event did anyone from the Chamber of commerce or working the event request we take anything down of the diversity of items we had available, many that were donated to us. If any event representative had requested this, we would have immediately complied. Via email I offered to pay for the booth or pay to join the chamber since I spend about half my time in Laguna, none of which they required. Unfortunately this article failed to show the FREE homeopet supplements we were offering in addition to the Rainbow flags, Love Beanies, pet bandanas and other pet Christmas items we were offering, showing the diversity that our charity expresses.
    Our rescue worked under the umbrella of other rescues until I released my book and wanted the proceeds from my book to go to the charity which is when we established our own 501c3. A few years ago we dealt with too many deaths of volunteers and people moving out of state and have been regrouping.

    Regardless, this smear campaign on a rescue that has thrived for over 30 years, with no one taking a salary and has helped thousands of mostly senior and abused pets recover from severe abuse and illness, has done more damage for the welfare of animals due to a couple people’s divisive political beliefs than creating anything of value.
    I pray we can regroup, work on peacefully coexisting and expressing more tolerance for different opinions for the greater good of all.
    Happy holidays to all of you. For any of you who had hatred to us who needs help with an animal, I welcome the opportunity to meet, unify and help your Superior four-legged ones thrive as so many have that were given death sentences before coming into our care and being saved.

  15. Deborah Laughton,
    Aren’t you married to George Weiss who slandered and defamed us and then withdrew his comments after we addressed this? Why don’t you come clean and use your real name? I advise you all to watch yourselves. The truth of what really occurred on this evening is slowly coming out and it is not a pretty sight showing the hypocrisy of too many of you who choose to harm an all volunteer, diverse rescue that has been helping thousands of dogs for over 30 years over politics. We would never attack anyone at the expense of animals over their political beliefs no matter what side they are on. Unfortunately the photos used in these articles did not show the rainbow flags, homeopet remedies we were giving away for free or any of the pet items we offered in addition to a myriad of other items that were donated to our charity. Hopefully this will be a learning lesson also for those who chose to lie to protect their jobs and political beliefs.

  16. Wow, the attacks against Ms. Berger’s animal rescue organization is so defamatory! So what if they had diverse information out? Why is it that libs/leftists who claim to be so kind, so compassionate, so open to others are the ones who are so against the freedoms we have in America and are so bigoted? I never realized the hate & bigotry within the lib/leftist mindset, but in the last 5-6 years it’s been on full display.

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