While the amendment also discussed the number of horses, cats, dogs, roosters and rabbits residents are allowed to keep as pets, the discussion focused on chickens. Whereas the Brentwood City Council last year voted against the chickens 3-2, the Oakley council approved the ordinance amendment 4-0 (Mayor Jim Frazier was absent), ruffling a few feathers but pleasing many in the audience of more than 60 attendees.
Several residents spoke against allowing residents to keep chickens as pets, forewarning that chickens cannot be domesticated and are a nuisance, destroying gardens and front yards with their pecking and scratching.
“Chickens are not pets,” said Ray Speetzen. “They’re livestock. They’re a food source in the forms of eggs and meat, and they belong on a ranch or farm – land that is zoned agricultural, not residential.”
Lawrence Leckband also testified that chickens cause nothing but trouble. He raised chickens for many years and informed the council of the filth chickens generate – including lice infestations – and noted that chickens attract mice, squirrels, cockroaches and other unwanted houseguests.
He also warned the council about giving chicks to children as presents – which is common this time of year during the Easter season. “My daughter received two chickens for Easter,” Leckband said. “They were chicks, so they were cute, and that was OK, but she lost interest in about six months. Then she got lice from the chickens. You could never really domesticate a chicken. Oh sure, you can pick it up and carry it around, but that’s it.”
Chicken proponents countered that when a chicken causes a nuisance to neighbors, it’s usually the chicken owner’s fault. As with any pet, the owner is responsible for housing the pet in a secure environment, caring for it and cleaning up after it – an argument Councilmember Pat Anderson supported.
“This is a community in transition,” Anderson said. “It is rural in some areas; it is a quilt of all kinds of different housing types, and I am proud of that, but it is a community in transition. And I think because of that we are going to see things that were, things that are, and things in the middle. And I think this is one of those middle areas that we need to deal with. … I do believe that this is an issue about owners – that there is a lot of weight upon how you take care of your property, your possessions.”
Anderson said she was warned by Brentwood Mayor Bob Taylor that emotions would run high during the discussion, a prediction validated by the cheers and applause of chicken proponents throughout the session. In order to keep the meeting moving along, Vice Mayor Kevin Romick asked those audience members on several occasions to curb their enthusiasm.
The chicken debate came to the Oakley council after Oakley resident Roberto Ramos’ dogs dug under a fence and killed two chickens belonging to a neighbor. The incident forced Ramos to get rid of his dogs and motivated him to gather signatures for a petition urging the council to vote against the amendment.
Anderson said she appreciated the petition, but since the document contained no phone numbers, she was unable to contact the petitioners and gather their opinions. And while the incident involving Ramos and neighbor Cheryl Metzler brought the chicken debate to the forefront, Anderson said the council was not in the business of dealing with that particular neighborhood dispute, but of updating a local ordinance and giving the city’s code enforcement officer a concrete set of parameters to consider when issuing citations related to pet nuisances.
Under the amended ordinance, households in residential areas may have up to three dogs, five cats, three chickens and three rabbits. No roosters are allowed in residential areas. Horses will be permitted in Residential Zone 40, defined on the city’s website at www.ci.oakley.ca.us.
Structures to house chickens and other small pets must be at least 25 feet from all dwellings, and pet owners are required to keep the structure clean, allowing no offensive odors or areas for flies to circulate. Feed containers must be covered to deter rodents and insects, and small farming activities must be conducted in a way that does not create a public nuisance.
For more information, view the ordinance online at www.oakleyinfo.com.