David Dodd 2:33 a.m., May 19
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.