San Leandro has long been debating whether and, if so, under what circumstances, to legalize the raising of backyard chickens and bees. This is one of the few East Bay jurisdictions not to allow the practice although many residents do so anyway.
Thursday, March 14, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. community members are invited to the Senior Community Center, 13909 East 14th Street, to discuss the latest version of a proposed chicken and bee ordinance.
The most recent version of the proposed ordinance and the staff discussion can be read by following this link, or by uploading the attached PDF.
The city council rules committee suggested that the foregoing proposal be drafted into ordinance form with two changes:
reduction of minimum square footage from 6,000 to 4,500 for allowing a maximum of four chickens without a permit;
reduction in setback requirement from 20' to 5' (or consistent with the setback requirement for an accessory structure)
Thursday's community meeting will provide a chance to discuss this latest recommendation before the council acts.
San Leandro resident Kristine Konrad has been following the issue. Here are some of her comments and questions in advance of the community meeting.
"I'm a 4-H leader who has run the Poultry project for East Hills 4-H for the last 4 years, as well as my boys owning chickens . . . In general, this ordinance is a start in the right direction of legalizing poultry ownwership and beekeeping in San Leandro; however, there are some major points that I think need changing or updating to be in line with current ideas of owning backyard poultry. I listed my points as I went through the proposal, and copied sections as needed.
1. I disagree with the idea of permits, mainly because it discriminates against poultry owners and beekeepers as compared to dog and cat owners, nor am I sure as to the purpose of a permit. Are permits the only way to regulate neighbor complaints about a problem (like a rooster, or persistent bad smells)? Does the city need to raise money in order to issue permits and run inspections? Dog owners don't need to go through inspections to have a new dog, and I also think it would place a large demand on the time of the animal control officers to inspect all the yards of chicken owners in San Leandro. Finally, the current proposal does not outline the cost of an annual permit, nor the process. If permits are unavoidable, they should be affordable, and easy to do, but I would like to hear a rationale for the use of permits.
2. I also disagree with the idea of neighbor approval required for beekeeping. Bee populations are in mortal decline, and we need to take action to bring them back to normal numbers; beekeeping is an important tool in this fight. Bees are all around, and while I can understand someone with a life-threatening allergy to bee stings being nervous about a beehive next door, a neighbor who just doesn't like the idea of bees shouldn't have the power to prevent someone from having hives. Also, there is a mention of "over-pollination" earlier in the proposal, and I have to say, over-pollination isn't possible and just doesn't exist, in fact, and is indicative of ignorance and being uneducated about bees and beekeeping in general.
3. Inspections required for permits - I am reading a lot of generalities about what constitutes an "approved" set-up for having chickens, and would like some specifics. For example, this line in the proposal:
Cages and enclosures are of sufficient size to provide ample space for exercise.
Accepted national standards for coops say anywhere from 1- 4 square feet per chicken in a coop/run area, which means if you have 10 chickens, you would need to a run/coop with an area of 10 - 40 square feet. So, if we shoot for the middle, this means a 4 by 5 foot enclosure. This could look quite small to an animal control officer, but would be quite acceptable to a poultry expert, especially if the owner lets the chickens out in the afternoon to graze in the backyard.
Another example is predator-proofing a coop/run. While I don't think an ordinance should specify exactly what the proofing should be, since there are many ways to do it, the ordinance should give some examples and recommendations for protecting animals against predators (size of the chicken wire, embedding the wire into the ground, etc.).
4. Treatment of animals when sick - This is another case where the proposal doesn't meet reality. It is actually hard to find a veterinarian in the East Bay who will treat chickens, so it isn't always possible to treat an ailing chicken. Sometimes they succumb to old age, and sometimes they have diseases that aren't treatable (egg-bound disease). It doesn't make sense to penalize someone who couldn't find a vet to treat a chicken (people certainly should try), the language should be changed.
5. Sanitation issues - this is from section 2C:
The animal feces shall be stored in a fly-proof container to be properly disposed of a minimum of once weekly.
Of course we don't want to encourage flies and maggots, however, chicken manure and bedding is very valuable garden material, so the best thing to do is to compost it for a few weeks and then either use it as mulch on your plants (covering it up with a layer of soil to keep flies away), or dig it into the soil. You don't ordinarily put green and brown materials in a fly-proof container (i.e., sealing it up) to compost it, that leads to anaerobic (very smelly) conditions, which is not what you want when composting and re-using chicken manure. The proposed ordinance needs to be updated to reflect actual practice and what makes sense for gardening and composting, for example, "the chicken manure and bedding should be handled to prevent flies and their eggs".
6. From section 2D:
Total area of all coops or cages on a lot shall be no greater than 60 feet. No single or combination of coops or cages shall exceed 15 feet in height.
I don't have a problem with the above, but would like to know the purpose of this rule.
I hope the council is open to changing and updating the above ordinance, I think with some work that we could have a workable, fair and reasonable ordinance for chicken owners and beekeepers.
Read more about the chicken and bee ordinance and other urban farming issues in the Patch archives.
What's your take? Do you favor or oppose legalization?