OAKLAND In at least one respect, Esperanza Pallana now has the comfort of knowing that she's not an outlaw in the eyes of Oakland.
The City Council last week rewrote its 46-year-old zoning code to officially allow residents to sell the fruits and vegetables they grow at home. That means that starting Nov. 3, Pallana can sell some of the Fuji apples, figs, berries and other crops she grows in her backyard without the threat of a city crackdown.
But that unanimous vote was the easy part. The hard part comes next, as city officials draft new rules on just how big urban farms can get, when and where they can sell their produce and most controversially whether residents can raise and kill animals for food.
Oakland residents, including celebrity farmer Novella Carpenter, author of the book "Farm City," have become highly visible pioneers in the urban agriculture movement. As the East Bay city updates its policies governing the practice, the direction Oakland ultimately goes could make it a test case for other cities.
"There are definitely a lot of eyes on Oakland," said Nathan McClintock, a UC Berkeley student writing his doctoral thesis on urban agriculture. "This would be a signal to cities like Sacramento and San Francisco to address the animal issue."
The Sacramento City Council in August voted to let residents keep up to three egg-laying hens, but those may not be slaughtered. San Francisco in April made it legal to grow and sell produce at home, but the city didn't touch the question of animals.
The meat Oakland residents raise would be for personal use only, not for sale, as county, state and federal rules govern meat processing. Yet the prospect of "backyard slaughter," as animal-welfare activists call it, has stirred up a feather-storm of debate among supporters and opponents alike.
For Pallana, animals are an integral part of what she cultivates on her 20-by-50-foot farm, shoehorned against the tall fence that separates her yard from a gas station and the audible traffic on one of Oakland's more popular commercial strips.
Shaded under the loquat and avocado trees are a coop and hutches housing five hens, two turkeys and four rabbits. She intends to eat the turkeys, and she may again breed the rabbits and raise their offspring for food she's done it before.
"I don't have to buy meat, which I prefer because I know the history of these animals, I know what they've been fed and how they've been treated," said Pallana, 37, who works as a consultant to nonprofits.
Advocates of urban agriculture hope it will help shrink the city's carbon footprint and bring more fresh, healthy foods to poor neighborhoods. Proponents of meat-raising include the Oakland Food Policy Council, an advisory group created by the city several years ago to help it foster more sustainable, local food sources.
However, eco-friendly arguments don't soothe residents like Ian Elwood, co-founder of a group called Neighbors Opposed to Backyard Slaughter. Well-meaning as urban farmers might be, he said, their ignorance and inexperience leads to animal suffering.
"People are learning through do-it-yourself," he said. "But when you forget to water the chard, the chard dies and it's not that painful for anyone." With a chicken, Elwood said, such errors amount to abuse or neglect.
His group's petition on the website Change.org has more than 1,200 signatures from people around the United States and abroad.
For health reasons, Oakland would need to create clear standards for home farmers to contain animal feed, urine, feces and body parts from slaughtering, said Daniel Wilson, community relations coordinator for the Alameda County Vector Control Services District.
Without proper care and disposal, he said, those substances could attract rats and flies that spread disease.
Kitty Sharkey, who raises chickens, ducks, dairy goats, rabbits, quail and bees in her yard near the Oakland Coliseum, manages flies and pests by keeping her animal feed in sealed bins, regularly picking up droppings and making sure the fowl are in a predator-proof shelter at night.
"It doesn't matter what animal you own, whether it's livestock or domesticated cats and dogs, you need to be a responsible neighbor and clean up after your animals," Sharkey said.
Before she killed any chickens on her own, Sharkey said, she assisted with hundreds of kills at a farm in Sonoma County to learn the method from professionals. She first calms the bird with a dropper full of single-malt Scotch, then cuts the arteries in its neck and lets it bleed out over a bucket.
It's unclear under the city's old code whether animal harvesting by residents like Sharkey and Pallana is actually unlawful, said Eric Angstadt, deputy director of the Oakland Community and Economic Development Agency. The city has generally gotten involved only if a neighbor complained.
What is clear, however, is that "people are doing it anyway," Angstadt said. "And we would like them to have a reasonable set of regulations to prevent them from having problems or going to excess."
Angstadt said he expects the Planning Department to send its recommendations to the City Council this month or in early November. For now, city officials are absorbing a deluge of public comments, positive and negative, as they decide on exactly what it is they plan to do.