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The City Council has brought back to the table an ordinance that would allow Sacramento residents to keep chickens in backyards in the city.
The ordinance has been set aside since February’s Law and Legislation Committee meeting for drafting and was passed for publication at Tuesday night’s council meeting.
This means that the drafted document for the ordinance is available to the public for viewing from either the city’s website or in person from City Hall.
The ordinance would only allow for hens to be kept in residents’ backyards so long as they are confined in a pen, coop, cage or other type of enclosure at all times and the enclosures are maintained at a distance of 20 feet from a neighboring house.
Neither roosters nor the slaughtering of the hens are to be a part of the equation.
If passed by the council at next Tuesday’s meeting, the ordinance will allow residents in the city to raise up to three hens in their backyard under a permit that must be renewed annually.
“This is something a lot of progressive cities are doing, and it fits in with our overall goals of sustainability and healthier food access,” said Councilman Steve Cohn.
Cohn said he has been pushing for the ordinance to be adopted since last year along with an advocacy group called CLUCK, the Campaign for the Legalization of Urban Chicken Keeping.
“It just makes sense,” said Susan Ballew, a representative of CLUCK. “People want to have more control over their food source. Having fresh eggs from your chickens is an extension of that,” she added.
“They’re not just for eggs,” said Joe Calavita, another member of CLUCK, “They’re pets, too. It’s very nice to have that contact with the animal.”
Previous concerns have included the amount of money and manpower the Department of Animal Care Services has that will be needed to enforce the regulations. The ordinance states that the enforcement will be based on complaints only, and an annual license fee of $10 per chicken and a $15 permit fee per household will be charged to help cover the estimated cost of staff.
Another concern was the possibility of a surge of urban chicken farming bringing the avian influenza to the city, a virus most commonly found in birds.
Tim Carpenter, a professor at UC Davis in the Center for Animal Disease Modeling and Surveillance, said that there is a possibility, but the probability of this virus in the United States is incredibly low.
“The only time we’ve seen humans being infected by avian flu was in Asia, but they’ve got a different strain we haven’t seen over here,” he said, adding that he sees no reason for concern in the near future.
“Some people think it’s not something you should have in the city,” Calavita said.
“It’s like any other animal you take into your household – there’s a lot of responsibility,” Ballew said.
“Any handling with animals is potentially harmful,” Carpenter said, “but if people wash their hands regularly, it shouldn’t be a problem.”
Other concerns have been voiced over possible noise disruptions from the chickens, though many that are for the ordinance to be passed say that the noise level couldn’t compare to noise disruptions from other animals in the neighborhoods.
Taking into account these noise disruptions, many still say the noise level from a three-hen limit can hardly compare to the noise level from the seven-cat-or-dog limit that is allowed now.
It’s a bit short-sighted, given that chickens cluck quietly when you have a neighbor with dogs that bark incessantly, and having them enclosed at all times is very conservative, Calavita added.
Ballew said that CLUCK views the three-chicken limit as a compromise, adding that a big burden will be lifted from those who already have chickens.
“We don’t want something where it’s sent back for more changes,” Calavita said, “whether it’s three or five chickens, I’m happy.”
“Maybe regulations will have to be reviewed over time,” Cohn said. “We are willing to listen to people on all sides to come up with the best parameters.”
Cohn said he thinks the ordinance will pass, with some debate over the precise regulations.
“If more people can have that experience with the connection of where their food comes from, we’re better off as people,” Calavita said.
The public is encouraged to review the proposed ordinance and is welcome to comment at the City Council meeting on Tuesday.
To view the ordinance, click here.