I Asked Morro Bay Chamber to Disavow Their Merger. They’ve Gone Silent.

Morro Rock

Shortly after last week’s Morro Bay City Council meeting, I reached out to Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce Chairperson Cherise Hansson. I requested the Board of Directors take a vote to officially rescind the vote they originally took to authorize the merger with San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce. I received word back that Hansson would take it under advisement with the board. Since then, I’ve heard radio silence from them.

Let’s recap.

According to leaked documents, a handful of Morro Bay Chamber Board of Directors and then-CEO Erica Crawford entered into negotiations, as essentially memorialized in a letter of intent from October last year, to merge with the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce. Those who weren’t involved in the negotiations were reportedly forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement that threatened financial retaliation should anyone discuss the merger, which was described as a “highly confidential” Chamber project.

Sources involved with the Chamber indicated the negotiations were done to ensure Crawford safe passage into her new job as community liaison for Ocean Winds North America, one of the companies involved in working on the Golden State Wind Project, an offshore wind energy facility near Morro Bay. Golden State Wind, is listed as one of the chamber’s Excel Investors, is a project the SLO Chamber voted to support. A merger with the SLO Chamber would have theoretically alleviated concerns about a conflict of interest with Crawford’s new position and the appearance of pay-to-play. The merger would have also punted any support of Vistra Energy, chief architect of the controversial Battery Energy Storage System and a chamber Excel Investor, to the SLO Chamber. In other words, the Morro Bay Chamber could say, “We personally didn’t take a position on these issues, but the SLO Chamber did. Now that they’re merging with us, there is no longer a problem with our sponsors.”

In exchange for his chamber merging with Morro Bay, SLO Chamber President and CEO Jim Dantona would put himself in a good enough political position to potentially launch a county supervisor campaign. Dantona would be perceived as a hero for bailing out an ailing chamber and strengthening his ties with the business-to-business community. According to two Morro Bay Chamber sources, Dantona privately denied a merger was taking place, but he was hesitant to comment on the record. Yet two sources familiar with the Morro Bay Chamber’s Board of Directors and one source involved with the San Luis Obispo Chamber’s Board of Directors indicated merger talks are ongoing.

The Morro Bay Chamber responded to my post in the form of a letter to their membership, falsely characterizing these revelations as “rumors” that they unequivocally stated were “inaccurate.” After I produced physical evidence of the existence of a merger agreement with an established timetable, the Chamber doubled down by circulating the same letter to their mailing list; they did so without acknowledging the evidence presented. This is a credibility issue I sought to rectify by reaching out to them with a deal: tell the truth, rescind the board vote taken, and commit to better transparency with the business community and the community at large. If what everything the Chamber wrote was true, there would have been no issue for them to enact a resolution to disavow their initial board vote on the merger and support a resolution to remain an independent entity.

Instead, there was silence. What I did receive, though, were comments made by Morro Bay Chamber Anna Patel, who disparaged Morro Bay businesses I provided marketing services for free — well, one reason being they never received any support from the Chamber during the time they were in business other than the rare social media shout-out. This is all happening while businesses throughout the community are closing their doors, with business owners feeling increasingly alienated from a once-ambitious and charismatic chamber that worked with businesses individually to address their needs. With rising supply costs, increased state taxes and fees, and labor shortages, the business community deserves to have a chamber that has their back.

After receiving a bizarre text and phone call from a polling group clearly paid by Vistra and/or BESS supporters to push their propaganda on the community today, I wondered if our chamber supports out-of-state special interests like them more than us. As time marches forward and they continue to remain silent, we will get to see their true nature manifest.

2 thoughts on “I Asked Morro Bay Chamber to Disavow Their Merger. They’ve Gone Silent.”

  1. Hi Aaron —
    Did you get the Survey Monkey survey, also clearly designed by pro-BESS concerns. It is truly poison, but I don’t know how to neutralize this bile. Educating the public and being honest is such a slow “row to hoe”. If you have any idea how to get ahead of these slime bags, let me know. Vote YES on Measure A-24 in November.
    Thank you for your work and trying to keep the powerful accountable.

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