The Morro Bay City Council can’t seem to shake the controversy over its refusal to acknowledge “Sea Otter Awareness Week.”
Following the Aug. 11 New Times article, “Morro Bay snubs sea otters,” local residents began posting flyers throughout the Embarcadero and the downtown area.
“TOURIST ADVISORY: See no otters. This is NOT Sea Otter Awareness Week in Morro Bay,” reads the flyer, which features a photo of an otter holding its little hands to its face. “Please refrain from expressing such Awareness of sea otters during your stay in Morro Bay. Should you wish to engage in such Awareness, please visit a different California coastal community. We don’t need your kind or your business here. Thank you for your cooperation.”
At the Aug. 23 City Council meeting, two residents blasted former councilwoman Betty Winholtz for her part in distributing the flyers, saying she littered the town. Resident Roger Ewing, however, defended Winholtz.
“I’m disappointed that you’re choosing to beat up on Betty,” Ewing said. “Tourism is now our city’s only industry. Thousands come out to see the otters, and to not recognize that is a real mistake.”
For the past six years, the city had proclaimed the last week in September as Sea Otter Awareness Week. But this year, under pressure from commercial fishermen, four of the five council members declined to make the same declaration. On Aug. 9, Councilman Noah Smukler attempted to get the proclamation on the agenda, but was shot down by the other council members.
“I used to dive abalone and sea urchins and I don’t appreciate sea otters at all,” Wayne Moody, director of the Morro Bay Fishermen’s Association, wrote to the council in response to a “feeler” extended by Mayor Bill Yates. “If they were gophers, they would be exterminated.”
In response to the uproar over the otters, the city council unanimously voted to declare the week beginning Sept. 25 as an all-encompassing “Wildlife Awareness Week.”