See Update No. 2 at the end of this post on a pet-industry lobby also having opposed the ban.
See Update No. 1 on the performing animal ban proposal being pulled.
ORIGINAL POST, SEPT. 25, 9:41 A.M.: In showbiz, timing is everything, which explains why Feld Entertainment is bringing the big guns to tonight's Anaheim City Council meeting. Having presented its Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus to packed Anaheim houses for years, Feld recently inked a five-year deal to continue the streak at the Honda Center–a deal the Virginia-based promoter now fears is threatened by a proposal before the City Council.
Before the council meeting at 5 p.m. is a proposed ordinance that would essentially ban performing “wild and exotic animals” in Anaheim–a direct hit to “The Greatest Show on Earth” known for its lion, tiger and elephant acts.
The proposal was spurred by Councilwoman Lorri Galloway, who said during council member comments on Aug. 23 that she would ask staff to draft the ordinance before the council tonight.
Though she advocated a general ban on performing wild and exotic animals, Galloway made it clear who her intended target was when she said she was “sickened” by evidence she's seen of alleged abuse of elephants.
“I know it's
considered part of Americana to have elephants in circuses,” Her Honor said that night, “but it's
time for change.”
That drew cheers from animal activists in the crowd, as they have for years tried to ban circus elephants over allegations of abuse by handlers and general mistreatment by producers. But, unavailable to chime in were actual circus promoters–or, at least, the largest one to operate in the city, Feld/Ringling, which claims it was totally blindsided by the proposal.
And so, among those darkening the council chambers tonight will be Stephen Payne, Feld Entertainment's vice president of Corporate Communications. Having had a chance to read the draft before the council tonight, Payne tells the Weekly it is “telling” that what Galloway first pitched as a general ban on performing animals now specifically targets circuses.
“The report also correctly points out
that this has nothing to do with public safety,” writes Payne in an email that points to this passage: “In the 46 years of the
Convention Center Arena and the Honda Center's annual circus, we are
not aware of any animal incidents related to any member of the public.”
That, to Payne, signals the draft ordinance “is clearly an animal rights driven anti-circus bill.”
Meanwhile, Galloway report she has been flooded with calls and emails from supporters of her proposal, so you can imagine a highly charged atmosphere tonight in a council chambers that has been the sight of more fireworks recently than nearby Disneyland's nighttime show thanks to outrage over Anaheim Police brutality and wrongful shooting claims.
Yep, you don't need a ticket, a big top or, heck, even elephants standing on their heads to attend a circus in Anaheim these days. Ringmaster/Mayor Tom Tait is scheduled to bang his gavel at 5 p.m. at 200 S. Anaheim Blvd.
UPDATE NO. 1, SEPT. 25, 6:38 P.M.: With “sadness,” and after consultation with animal-rights organizations that had clued Lorri Galloway into abuse allegations swirling around circuses, the councilwoman this evening pulled her proposed ban on performing wild and exotic animals within city limits.
Galloway said the issue required more study, but she invited dozens of animal activists and ban supporters in attendance to share their views with the council about the proposal and circus animals. Representatives from Feld Entertainment, the Honda Center and the Teamsters union were there to defend Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus' annual Anaheim shows.
“We're ecstatic,” reacted Stephen Payne, a Feld Entertainment vice president who attended along with a Ringling Bros. veterinarian who cares for performing lions, tigers and elephants.
Payne accused some critics of airing unsubstantiated claims about Ringling Bros.'s treatment of animals, while adding he believes the Feld forces were able to convince at least some people that the way the company operates runs counter to the opposition's allegations.
“We are happy to have the opportunity to bring 'The Greatest Show on Earth' back to the Honda Center every year,” said Payne, pointing to the five-year deal Ringling Bros. recently inked with the arena next to the 57 freeway. “The two weeks in Anaheim are such a central part of our Southern California engagement.”
UPDATE NO. 2, SEPT. 27, 4:27 P.M.: Before Lorri
Galloway pulled her proposed ban on performing animals before the Anaheim City Council, the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) had advised “retailers,
breeders and pet owners” to speak out against the measure.
exempts reptile shows held at Anaheim Convention Center, veterinarians
who treat exotic animals, and public zoos and aquariums accredited by the
Association of Zoos and Aquariums,” warned the PIJAC, which urged its members to contact Anaheim council folk.
“PIJAC supports reasonable
regulation of animals that may pose a threat to public health or safety
but does not believe absolute bans are sound public policy,” the lobbyists explained. “Furthermore, such bans drive business underground,
thereby depriving the government of effective regulation.”
After the further study Galloway seeks, she could bring the proposal back before the council. The PIJAC warned of a possible Oct. 9 return. But such a law would require approvals at two public meetings–and meeting dates are numbered for Galloway, who is termed out in November. Of course, there are always voter initiatives . . .
Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.