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Sacramento poised to approve backyard chicken keeping

Published: Sunday, Aug. 28, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2011 - 8:22 am

After two years of delays, the city of Sacramento is on the verge of hatching a law to allow backyard chickens.

The City Council will debate Tuesday night a proposed ordinance allowing city residents to keep up to three egg-laying hens in their yards. If approved, Sacramento would join a growing list of cities across the state and country that allow chickens to be kept in residential areas.

Under the proposed rules, city residents would need to get a permit to keep the chickens. The birds would be required to be housed in pens, coops or cages at all times, and the holding areas would need to be at least 20 feet from neighboring homes.

Roosters would not be allowed, and neither would the slaughter of chickens in any residential zone.

Advocates of the "slow food" movement support allowing backyard chickens, describing it as an idea whose time has come. As neighborhood farmers markets and the local food movement continue to grow in popularity in Sacramento, so has the push to allow chickens.

"This is really about a healthier lifestyle in Sacramento," said Councilman Jay Schenirer. "It's taken a long time, but I think this is part of a larger healthy food movement."

The debate over whether to allow backyard chickens in the city has taken some time.

It was once delayed when Councilman Steve Cohn stood up and left a council committee meeting at which an ordinance to allow the chickens was being debated because he feared it might be defeated. With the councilman not there, not enough members were present to vote and the proposal survived.

The ordinance eventually received the blessing of the Law and Legislation Committee in February after that committee debated the issue multiple times.

Chicken advocates aren't complaining about the delays. They said they understand that other hot-button issues – in particular, the city's regulation of medical marijuana dispensaries – have occupied considerable staff time at City Hall.

"We knew we had to wait our turn in line," said Susan Ballew, a member of the Campaign to Legalize Urban Chicken Keeping, or CLUCK. "We're just happy that it's gotten to this point."

Some in the city worry about public health risks of backyard chickens. One resident, Charles Luce, recently wrote the mayor and council to express those concerns.

"I feel that chicken keeping in our city would expose our community to a totally unnecessary and deadly health risk," Luce wrote. Of particular concern, Luce wrote, was the potential of avian flu outbreaks.

But Dr. Glennah Trochet, Sacramento County's public health officer, has told the city that health risks could be lessened with proper regulation and education, and that avian flu outbreaks were unlikely.

While the ordinance would legalize backyard chickens, city officials don't expect complaints associated with the animals to disappear.

Reina Schwartz, head of the city's General Services Department, said the city receives between 400 and 500 phone calls a year related to illicit chickens.

Still, chicken advocates think their issue has growing support.

"It's an idea that is catching on," said Victoria Aiken, a Land Park resident and member of CLUCK.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Ryan Lillis

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