Addie Tweet, age nine, and her six-year-old sister Ellie asked the La Mesa City Council on October 8 to approve a backyard-chicken law so their chickens can come home.
Several months ago, the hens were moved to an undisclosed location after a neighbor's complaint led to a warning letter from the city. If the chickens weren't relocated in seven days, the family faced a $200 fine.
"My mom [Libby] and I read a lot of ordinances from cities, including Santee and San Diego,” Addie said. “We used that information to write a proposed ordinance for La Mesa."
"We used to have six lovely chickens,” said Ellie, “but we had to move them to a different home until the law gets changed. We miss them very much."
The council heard from one other resident on the topic.
"I have a hard enough time dealing with barking dogs,” David Smyle said. “I don't want to deal with clucking chickens. I don't think you can tell a chicken to shut up." Smyle said a requirement to house chickens in "soundproof coops…should take away some of the issues."
In July, the council approved a general plan update that allowed chickens. Specifics were limited to permitting hens (but no roosters) at single-family residences. This month, councilman Ernie Ewin asked his colleagues to initiate a zoning-ordinance amendment to allow chickens in residential zones. The council voted unanimously for city staff to draw up an ordinance and schedule it for a planning-commission hearing.
City manager David Witt noted that a 1943 ordinance allowed poultry and rabbits in La Mesa.
"In 1950,” said Witt, “they changed their mind and decided it was not a good idea. Now we're back again to evaluate this issue."
In an interview after the meeting, Libby said the chickens are staying with a friend. The hens (two Rhode Island reds, two barred rocks, and two Americanas) were brought as chicks to the Tweet home, where they lived for a year and three months on a 12,000-square-foot lot with about 25 fruit trees and a vegetable garden.
Libby said her daughters are home-schooled and that working to change the law is an "ongoing school project." When asked if soundproof coops existed, Libby said, "No, [and] they can't just live in the coops all day."
"They only make noise when they lay eggs,” said Addie before demonstrating the clucking sound for me.
The Tweets' "Chickens for La Mesa" ordinance allows hens for "household egg gathering" at single-family residences with lots of at least 5000 square feet. Up to five chickens are allowed if the coop is at "least five feet from the property line." Up to 15 hens are permitted if the coop is 15 feet from the property line. Up to 25 are allowed if the "coop and enclosure are a minimum of 50 feet from any structure used for residential purposes."
The ordinance specifies that each chicken has at least two square feet inside the coop and a minimum of five square feet of ground area outdoors in a fenced enclosure.
(corrected 10:40 a.m., 10/12)