Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Another victory for city chickens

Two stories in last week's Sacramento Bee reported on a family keeping chickens in the yard of their Sacramento home. Read the reports here and here. A Sacramento County ordinance prohibits keeping chickens on parcels that are smaller than 10,000 square feet, and a local family caught the attention of the Bee when the county threatened removal of the chickens they kept on the smallish lot of their rental home. Here are some excerpts from the Bee's coverage, which provides interesting history and context.

Keeping urban chickens is a growing trend in a society increasingly interested in where its food comes from. The city of Sacramento is considering legalizing egg-laying chickens, drafting policies that are expected to go before the legislation committee in March.

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In the city of Sacramento, a vocal group of residents is lobbying for a relaxation of the law that bans chickens. The city's legislation committee is expected to review the chicken laws in March.

"The city and county are a little in the past," said Paul Towers, who is part of CLUCK, or the Campaign to Legalize Urban Chicken Keeping. "Everyone deserves the right to healthy, local food, and cities and counties should make that a priority for their citizens."

Backyard chickens went out of favor after World War II, when Americans saw two cars and the suburbs as the ideal dream, said Valerie Taylor, a resident of Montgomery, Ohio, who successfully fought last year against that upscale community's chicken laws.

"Chickens were seen as something that was downscale, kind of like having sidewalks," she said. "Who would want to walk when you could drive? And who would raise their own birds when you could go to the grocery store and buy eggs?"

Zoning codes were established in Sacramento County in 1950, when areas were specified as being residential or agricultural, said code enforcement manager Tammy Derby.

Chickens were barred from residential zones until 1985, when they were allowed as part of an educational program such as 4-H on plots larger than 10,000 square feet, said county spokeswoman Annie Parker.

People can apply for a conditional-use permit to have chickens on smaller plots, but no one has done so in the almost 30 years that Manuel Mejia has been with the county.

The cost to apply for the permit is more than $6,000 and, even when paid, may not be granted, said Mejia, a senior planner.

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