Backyard chicken coops and bee hives moved a step closer to legalization in San Leandro when the City Council voted 7-0 Monday night to ask a committee to draft rules to govern such activities inside city limits.
Currently, San Leandro is the only city in Alameda County to prohibit the raising of chickens and bees in most parts of town, said Gayle Hudson of the Broadmoor Garden Exchange, one of the groups pushing for the changes.
More than a dozen people spoke in favor of the change Monday night.
They included Kristine Konrad, a 12-year resident of San Leandro, who said she homeschooled her children and is active in the 4-H program.
Konrad said her children started raising chickens as a 4-H activity and learned only after the fact that it was against city rules.
"I want to teach my children that food is not something that is wrapped in plastic and delivered from a thousand miles away," Konrad said.
San Leandro resident Vincent Rosato urged the council to maintain the status quo. He argued that chickens could spread odor and disease.
"I really think it's a public health issue, that you should not allow (chickens) across the board," he told the council.
Proponents countered that dogs and cats are more numerous and also pose potential health problems, but no one would consider banning them.
In the end, the council voted unanimously to ask its Business and Housing Development Committee to draft rules to legalize hens and bees.
But exactly how remains to be seen.
Councilman Jim Prola said the practice should be governed by conditional use permits.
His district includes Mulford Gardens, the one neighborhood where chickens and bees have been allowed because it was grandfathered into the city charter.
Prola said he gets many complaints of abuses. He wants a process that would let neighbors complain and give the city the power to yank the permit after a third offense.
"Three strikes and you're out," he said.
But proponents say permits would be costly and cumbersome for small operations. They want rules that would exempt people who keep only a few hens or hives.
"There's still a lot of questions to answer," said Hudson.
The issue will come up again on Thursday, October 13, from 4:00 to 5:00 p.m. That's when the city's Business and Housing Development Committee meets in the Sister Cities Gallery at City Hall to start the rule-making process.
(Disclosure: Patch editor Tom Abate is married to Mia Ousley, who raises hens and testified Monday night in favor of legalization.)