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Rachel Hiner appeared before the Ocean Beach Planning Board last week advocating for an easing of restrictions on keeping chickens in a residential area. Hers was the second in a series of presentations to local community groups, the first being in Golden Hill in June. More presentations are planned before local community planning groups in Pacific Beach and on the Point Loma Peninsula. The group will address the North Park community next on July 19.

Current law allows residents to keep up to 25 roosters and hens, as long as they’re housed 50 feet or more from any residential building, including the birds’ owner. Under a proposed exemption, owners would be allowed to keep up to five hens (no roosters), provided their coop is 20 feet or more from a neighbor’s residence. There would be no buffer zone required between the coop and the owner’s home under the five-hens-or-fewer exception.

Chicken advocates argue that the current 50 foot restriction is a de facto ban, as over 80% of lots within city limits are of insufficient size and shape to comply. They also note that exemptions currently exist for pet shops, schoolhouses, museums, physicians’ offices and laboratories, among other uses.

Benefits touted include a healthy local food source – free range eggs contain less cholesterol and saturated fat while providing more nutrients than store-bought eggs. The birds are known to scavenge for insects that harm gardens and humans, including slugs, flies, ticks, and mosquitoes. Also noted were chickens’ production of quality fertilizer, contribution to environmental sustainability, and ability to provide educational opportunities for children.

And of course, many choose to keep the birds simply because they’re appreciated as pets. “They’re very entertaining pets. I can watch them scratch around for hours,” remarked Hiner.

The proposal also addresses potential community concerns. On odor and waste, proponents note that hens weigh on an average five pounds and produce only four ounces of waste in a day, that all of it would be on the owner’s property (unlike outdoor cats and dogs with inconsiderate owners), and that the owner would be responsible for keeping the coop sanitary.

Also clarified during the presentation is the fact that chickens do not spread salmonella themselves. Infection in humans happens only when consuming infected meat or eggs that have been undercooked, or by allowing feces to contact a person’s mouth. Salmonella is also found on many other household animals, and its prevalence in industrial-raised chickens is up to 20 times higher.

Other concerns addressed include avian flu (unlikely to be spread by a few birds confined to a coop and small backyard), water and air quality (chickens produce less waste than other animals and, unlike other domestic pets, their waste is safe for composting), and noise concerns (the exception request would specifically ban roosters, while hens rarely make noise and do not crow).

Reception at the OB meeting was generally positive. “I agree with the right to allow people to produce healthy, organic foods right in their backyards,” offered Landry Watson, the planning board’s vice chairman.

Chris Zucconi, the proposal’s author, will continue to present the request to the public along with groups supportive of small-scale agriculture including Urban Food Network and the One in Ten Coalition. The matter will eventually be brought before the city council.

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Comments

BlueSouthPark July 13, 2011 @ 4:09 p.m.

A few things: Salmonella species are all intestinal types of bacteria. They come from within: they are "on" any animal or human or object ONLY following contact with fecal matter. Contact with chicken and (all bird) poop is to be seriously avoided. Hands must be carefully washed; imperfectly sanitized hands that have touched bird poop or touched tools used to remove/transport bird poop can transfer Salmonella,... to garden soil, a gate, a fence, a door handle, a kid's face or toy, a lightswitch, a cookie, a plate or bowl....anywhere. Take extreme care not to spread Salmonella.

The distance of 20 feet would require the coop to be exactly centered in most typical 50-foot-wide yards in North Park, PB, South Park, OB, or Golden Hill. This is very close in terms of noise and smell. Chickens will be noticed, by smell and noise, by neighbors.

Hens DO make noise, all the time. They cluck and cluck and cluck, for hours on end. They can be heard many blocks away. Constant clucking is not as horrifying a sound as dog barking is, but it can be truly annoying for hours on end, and would be yet another unnecessary introduced noise on top of the airplanes, freeways, and, yes, insane dogs. And no police will ever come and cite the owners for chickens disturbing the peace.

If the code change includes guaranteed police response and noise violation citations, maybe. Otherwise, NO!

And, I expect a lot of novices don't know it, but chickens kill each other for little reason. It's bloody and awful. The kids and innocents will be traumatized.

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motherhen July 21, 2011 @ 10:05 a.m.

Hens DO NOT make noise ALL THE TIME! They do cackle every now and then but dogs bark and make more noise than any chicken I've ever had. Smell? Even dog droppings will end up smelly if not taken care of. Chicken coop bedding and waste must be cleaned up regularly just like any other pet's waste. And I've only seen mild pecking on my hens to establish pecking order. They are very sweet and gentle pets.

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Visduh July 13, 2011 @ 4:33 p.m.

Blue, it's obvious that you don't like chickens where you can see or hear them. I kept hens here in semi-rural Vista for many years, and neighbors on one side had no idea they were even there. (I know that because they were surprised when I told them about having some years after we first got them.)

As with all things to do with gardening, you have to be careful about sanitation. But we never once found and gathered an egg that was cracked, and cracked eggs are a great way to spread salmonella.

Noisy? Yeah, they cluck some, but not for hours on end unless in distress. A vocal cat can be more annoying than a few hens, and there's no comparison to a neighbor with a frustrated dog that yaps for hours on end. Keeping such a small number of hens in the middle of a back yard is a very mild thing to do. And the eggs really are better. Shells are stronger, the yolk is more intensely colored, and they stand up to being handled and cooked better.

And they kill each other? In all those years I never had one hen attack another one, much less kill one. Your hyperbole got the best of you, Blue.

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InOmbra July 13, 2011 @ 6:36 p.m.

Nope, grew up around chickens. Watched their necks get wrung or chopped, heard their clucks, and smelled their poop. Presently, there are chickens in South Park, somewhere, blocks from me. Every morning they cluck in the distance, for hours. Not too bad, but they are not next door, either!

They do peck each other to death. Seen it. Read it (ABC of Poultry Raising). It happens.

That said, I love me some chickens! To misquote Dave van Ronk: "Chickens are nice with corn, butter, and rice"

And might I add, the chicken movement definitely collides with the current Urban Infill/Companion Unit Code Change movement by the City. No room in the old 100-by-50-foot single-family-zoned lot for both a second (rental) unit AND some imprisoned chickens.

Hmmm, I think I'll vote for chickens: they don't have cars to park where there is no parking and don't add to the transient-resident-aspect of life in the hood. AND, you can wring their necks if you get really exasperated!

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Lisa O July 14, 2011 @ 8:43 a.m.

I have chickens. I wrote about my experiences on my blog. Chickens are great teachers. They supply food and help the environment. I love roosters, but I don't have one lest I piss off my neighbors. They eat bugs and even lizards. (The chickens, not the neighbors.) They produce awesome fertilizer and compost the soil themselves. All I have to do is provide clean water, food, keep them safe and turn the soil. I vote YES for chickens.

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MURPHYJUNK July 14, 2011 @ 9:23 a.m.

maybe the master plan is to lic. chickens like the cat lic plan.

( and collect fees of course)

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Twister July 14, 2011 @ 9:32 a.m.

The ban on chickens or anything else is a limitation on liberty. To prevail in civil court, you must show actual loss that passes the "reasonable man" test, you can't be arbitrary.

The primary reason citizens hate government is that it is arbitrary in the making of its laws, which are often inconsistent with the Constitution or other stated principles, including case law. 50 feet is an arbitrary "standard," based on someone's wild guess many years ago rather than science.

Ducks are easier to manage with fewer health risks (dried poop becoming airborne) and more fun than chickens, but louder, yet more comical. Their eggs are AWESOME! If you want quiet ducks, get drakes. Since their poop is wet it doesn't go airborne. They eat every single fly, but not lizards.

QUACK, quack, quack, quack!

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kensingtoncanyon Sept. 3, 2011 @ 10:52 a.m.

Chickens do cluck and when they live (even in a wire coop)in a canyon in the heart of Kensington, they sound even louder. Now add to that barking dogs, owned by same person you no longer have the tranquility we use to have. The whole complexion of the canyon is changing, due to this addition of chickens. Now the coyotes are more active at this end as well as the hawks. I am sure they see this as easy food, but in fact, due to the construction of the coop it is only a tease, so they look else where for food. Hence small dogs and cats are at risk.

Chickens have there place, but perhaps not in Kensington canyons.

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