The Health Beat Blog

Monday, Apr 22 2013 06:27 PM

Newly comprised city panel in a chicken reversal

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    Free range chickens.

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BY STEVEN MAYER Californian staff writer smayer@bakersfield.com

Despite passionate pleas from pro-poultry partisans, a proposal to allow Bakersfield residents to keep chickens in their urban neighborhoods didn't fly Monday.

Members of the Legislative and Litigation Committee of the Bakersfield City Council may have symbolically clipped the wings of the ordinance when they voted 2-1 to oppose both options for the new law.

"The vast majority of people I've talked to are not in favor," said city councilman and committee member Russell Johnson.

The same committee directed city staff in November to come up with a plan that would do just the opposite: allow single-family households to keep a limited number of chickens in their residential back yards. But two members of last year's committee -- Sue Benham and Rudy Salas -- are no longer members of the city council. They were replaced on the committee by Chairman Terry Maxwell and Johnson.

While the proposal is not officially dead, by the end of Monday's meeting at City Hall North, supporters seemed to realize the sky was falling on their hopes for a world where it doesn't much matter which came first, the chicken or the egg.

Before the vote, many spoke in favor of the proposals, including 16-year-old Linda Snoddy, a 10th-grader at Valley Oaks Charter School who wore a 4-H jacket and cap to Monday's meeting.

"When done correctly, backyard chickens can have many benefits," she said during the public comment period. "They can provide manure for the garden, eat household food waste, produce fresh eggs every morning and can even be lovable family pets."

Snoddy noted that backyard poultry is allowed in myriad and diverse cities across the United States, including Seattle, Portland, Ore., Midland, Texas, San Diego, Santa Ana, Laguna Niguel, San Francisco, Davis and many others.

The aspiring poultry veterinarian wondered why parrots and other tropical birds -- which have no material benefits and make more noise than her hens -- have no restrictions.

And dogs?

"The neighbor's dogs make more noise than my chickens ever would," she said,

Currently, the city doesn't allow people living in residential areas zoned as R-1 to have chickens in their yards. The single-family dwelling designation covers most of the city south of the Kern River.

If approved, the ordinance would allow property owners in R-1 zones to keep up to three female chickens in a backyard coop if they apply for a permit from the Planning Department and also get written permission from the owners of all adjacent properties. The chickens would have to be kept in a pen and not be allowed to roam, according to the proposal.

Pens would have to be at least 50 feet from any other house, a requirement supporters on Monday said would make it impossible for the vast majority of city residents to keep chickens.

City staff has long maintained that the keeping of urban chickens brings the possibility of adverse impacts that would outweigh for the broader community the benefits a limited number of supporters might see.

City Building Director Phil Burns said complaints to city Code Enforcement would almost certainly increase, and he has just nine officers available to investigate all complaints citywide.

Dust, odor, air quality and public health were also listed as potential risk factors.

City Councilwoman Jacquie Sullivan sided with those who support the loosening of laws regarding urban fowl farming -- and she seemed genuinely surprised when she was outvoted on the committee.

The proposal may still go before the full council for discussion, but supporters seemed to recognize that Monday's vote represented a major blow to their cause.

"It'll never pass now," one woman lamented as she walked out of the meeting room.

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