'Birds are messy:' Salinas City Council votes 5-2 against hens

·3 min read
Different chickens stand on balancing beams in Aromas, Calif., on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022.
Different chickens stand on balancing beams in Aromas, Calif., on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022.

For Salinas city residents who have had chickens or other livestock living on their property, city officials say it's still illegal.

Council members debated Tuesday on whether to adopt a resolution that would allow residents to legally raise chickens on their property, if they met certain rules and regulations.

Ultimately the ordinance failed to pass following a 5-2 vote from the council, meaning residents will not be allowed to own the chickens legally in the coming year.

The proposed ordinance would have allowed people to own up to four chickens as of 2023 if the owners live in at least a 5,500 square-foot lot, and the chickens would have to be kept in the appropriate cages or henhouses. Owners would also have had to register for a permit with the city and pay a one-time fee of around $150.

Having roosters would still be prohibited.

While some community members said they want to keep their domestic chickens simply to get fresh eggs and have access to organic foods in their own backyard, many noise complaints and health hazard concerns have poured in.

Councilman Anthony Rocha raised concerns over the numbers of chicken and roosters some residents may have on their properties, what process would be followed to remove them and the public health risks that having the birds may pose.

A rooster rests on a balancing beam in Aromas, Calif., on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022.
A rooster rests on a balancing beam in Aromas, Calif., on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022.

Cindy Burnham, Animal Services Administrator for the Monterey County Health Department, said it is an area of concern for the entire county. Some properties, including some in Salinas, have been found with up to 500 birds on their property, she said.

“It doesn’t take a lot of chickens to have rodent problems and smell problems and birds are messy,” she said.

Burnham also pointed out that there are limited housing, adoption, and shelter options locally for chickens and roosters, so removing them in large numbers would be a difficult task.

Other concerns surrounded enforcement and whether the city would be able to patrol and keep up with complaints and reports of violations. Salinas has just two animal control officers, meaning that some chicken-related calls would likely fall on the police department.

“With two people and days off, and sick leave, that can happen, and it does happen pretty often in Salinas,” Burnham said. “It’s probably higher than it would be if there was more animal control staff on there but there are requirements. If there’s a sick or injured or aggressive animal, somebody needs to respond.”

A chicken walks in front of a cage in Aromas, Calif., on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022.
A chicken walks in front of a cage in Aromas, Calif., on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022.

So far, the city has received roughly 72 complaints about chickens and roosters since 2018.

Salinas Police Chief Roberto Filice said responding to calls would be a matter of determining priority and that responding could take a long time.

“Let’s assume there is no animal control on duty," Filice said. "If we’re busy, that call will continue to pend possibly until the following day when an animal control officer can come on duty."

Rocha said that although he is in support of residents having access to homegrown essential goods, proper managing systems and staffing abilities must be well established before allowing backyard chickens.

“If we don’t have a proper infrastructure in our community development department, if we don’t have the proper infrastructure in code enforcement and in animal control, we’re setting this up to fail and we’d only have ourselves to blame,” Rocha said.

A Joint Powers Agreement (JPA) is in the process of being formed by the city in collaboration with the county to address local animal control issues, city attorney Christopher Callihan said.

“The JPA would be responsible for animal control within the city. So, if this ordinance comes into effect and even if it doesn’t, the enforcement of the current regulations, which prohibit chickens, would fall within the jurisdiction of that JPA,” Callihan said. “Enforcement will have to occur, whether it be the city of Salinas or the JPA, someone’s going to have to enforce it.”

Other cities would also be allowed to join and collaborate with the JPA.

A young boy holds a rooster on his arm in Aromas, Calif., on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022.
A young boy holds a rooster on his arm in Aromas, Calif., on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022.

This article originally appeared on Salinas Californian: 'Birds are messy:' Salinas City Council votes 5-2 against hens

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