Morro Bay Chamber is Divorcing From Morro Bay

Morro Rock

The Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce has served the business community since 1956. For nearly 70 years, the chamber served as an passionate advocate for businesses throughout Morro Bay — that is, until now.

The Chamber is set to dissolve and be absorbed into the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce by spring, according to leaked documents. Neither chamber members nor the general public were informed of the dissolution, which is set to take place on July 1, 2024.

According to sources familiar with Morro Bay Chamber leadership, the Board of Directors was reportedly forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement illegally under duress and threatened with retaliation in case they spoke about the unauthorized move publicly. These sources identified then-Chamber of Commerce CEO Erica Crawford and Chamber Board Treasurer Stephen Peck as the chief architects behind the move to dissolve the Morro Bay Chamber, despite the Board of Directors not taking an actual vote on the proposal itself.

Last Summer, Crawford and Peck presented the dissolution as a potential option after the chamber was struggling with revenue. The option was supposed to be evaluated as part of a study group and presented to the board for further discussion and a vote. However, the Board of Directors began receiving a non-disclosure agreement in Oct. 2023 without context provided by Crawford or Peck. The NDA discussed an unspecified and “highly confidential” Chamber project. Should the project be discussed publicly outside the board, the injured party could recover $2,500 in liquidated damages.

Some of the Board of Directors received a letter of intent from the chamber in early October 2023, describing the chamber dissolution as a merger. However, it’s unclear from the letter of intent who wrote it and who was legally authorized to negotiate as representatives of each party to enter into merger negotiations in lieu of board action.

Chamber members reported seeing San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jim Dantona at Morro Bay Chamber-hosted events in mid-2023. When asked in August 2023 by a Morro Bay Chamber member why he was attending events, Dantona reportedly replied that he was “getting used to the new job,” but he did not specify further.

One source familiar with conversations between Dantona and Crawford revealed the two had negotiated a “power broker” agreement that placed the two in greater political and professional standing. The dissolution would set a convenient backdrop for Crawford to become the community liaison for Ocean Winds North America. Ocean Winds is an offshore wind company that partnered Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPP Investments) to acquire an 80,418-acre lease area by the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) in Morro Bay in Dec. 2022. The joint venture is called Golden State Wind. Acquisition by the SLO Chamber, which supports the controversial offshore wind energy project and the controversial proposed Vistra Battery Energy Storage System (BESS), would theoretically override any potential conflicts of interest Crawford had while giving individual chamber leadership political cover to oppose grassroots efforts to thwart the BESS project. Both Golden State Wind and Vistra Energy are listed as the Chamber’s excel investors.

This also places Dantona in a favorable position as a potential candidate for the next District 3 supervisor race. According to two San Luis Obispo Chamber members close to him, Dantona has publicly expressed interest in the supervisor position — in light of his chamber’s acquisition of the Morro Bay Chamber — at SLO chamber events since October 2023. Given one of the former District 3 supervisors continues to make headlines for accepting bribes over three years after his death, this is probably not the best look for Dantona.

Over the past two years, I’ve spoken with Chamber members who lost confidence in Crawford’s leadership and felt the chamber practically abandoned them after COVID-19 restrictions eased. Several members have decided to withdraw their membership and pursue more reliable business-to-business (“B2B”) partnerships within Morro Bay. And I, for one, support an alternative, ethical and transparent 501(c)(6) non-profit business organization that better supports the needs of the Morro Bay business community.

11 thoughts on “Morro Bay Chamber is Divorcing From Morro Bay”

  1. Charles R Hutchins

    What is a public entity doing having NDA’s? Isn’t this an illegal step.
    What is the Dantona person doing padding his own nest?
    Is this a way for his personal profit or his parties claim to fame?

    1. Not sure how the Bylows read for Morro Bay, but in Selma, CA any resident can be a member of the Chamber. This would help with membership count, but seems like there is a bigger problem with the current leadership. A new group starting sound good to me. Also has the current Chamber ever reached out to owners of STR’s (VR’s)? They are business owners and have a stake in how Morro Bay presents itself in a business way.

  2. A perfect example of the Democratic Party’s idea of Democracy. Drain the swamp of Morro Bay politicians. The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.

  3. I live and have lived in San Luis Obispo for more than 4 decades. Please don’t mix up the individuality of Morro Bay with the now money hungry SLO city council.
    PLEASE DON’T. I miss old SLO.
    I DON’T WANT Morro Bay to go the same way.

  4. NDA in the public domain? Obviously things that did not want to see the light of day. A lot of expensive interests involved here….

  5. Erica Crawford is an upstanding person, whose only goal in my opinion was for the better of Morro Bay. I am a Morro Bay resident, business owner, and Chamber member, and she was sometimes the only person I ever felt who supported my business and most businesses and people in Morro Bay. I only hope the best for her.

  6. With the possible exception of landing a hydrogen-filled airship in an electrical storm, this is the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard.

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