Thursday, April 26 , 2018, 11:28 am | Partly Cloudy with Haze 58º

 
 
 
 
Advice

Ron Fink: Lompoc City Council Ousts Roosting Chickens

The Lompoc City Council convened a hearing Sept. 15 to discuss whether or not people living in residential neighborhoods should be allowed to raise hens in their yards.

Many cities in Santa Barbara and other counties have long-standing rules concerning this issue. Who knows how long these rules have been on the books, but they are still there. 

Even though many people throughout the city have chickens in their yards, Lompoc has no such rules in place. The city also doesn’t have any rules in place that allow cats as household pets, but that doesn’t stop several hundred households from keeping these feline friends.

The Lompoc Planning Commission discussed this issue Aug. 12 of this year. Several people spoke in support of allowing hens claiming that they don’t make any noise or create a nuisance. 

Despite their claims, hens like to brag about their accomplishments almost as much as businessmen who are presidential candidates, and after laying an egg, they can be heard crowing just like politicians who pass bad legislation.

My neighbor has two or three small pigeons from time to time (the city currently allows up to 50 in single family residential areas) and when the pigeons are in residence there are lots of flies in my yard. 

When they are gone, so are the flies. You may have noticed that hens are much larger than pigeons.

The issue before the planning commission didn’t limit itself to hens; we considered amending the definition of household pets.
 
The change would allow the keeping of not more than six chickens, birds, ducks, Asian potbellied pigs or rabbits in single family zones. Dogs, cats, fish and pigeons were not discussed.

Future Farmers of America and 4-H projects were not mentioned; however, during the commission hearing we were told by staff that these types of projects including sheep, goats, rabbits and chickens were commonly allowed for up to eight months in residential areas.

The staff told the council that cats and dogs were “domestic animals,” but keeping of domestic animals is not among the allowed uses in residential districts, nor is it defined in the zoning ordinance. 

It is included in another section of the municipal code, and “domestic animal” means any animal customarily kept by humans for pleasure or companionship, including, but not limited to, dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, hamsters, potbellied pigs, guinea pigs, mice, rats, iguanas and the like, but not including feral cats.

“But not limited to” is kind of open ended and really doesn’t define the policy.

Although well intentioned, the change to the zoning ordinance didn’t cover the broad range of household pets that people keep in their homes and yards. 

In fact, it appeared to me that taken at face value it seemed to prohibit these pets by exclusion, so I was the lone no vote against the change.
 
Over the years my family has included several cats, and we once had a rabbit. Rabbits can become domesticated very easily and in some ways they are more receptive to limited training than cats. (They at least can be taught. Cats are very independent.)

During the council discussion, one council member produced a stuffed chicken to make his point. He also pointed out that another council member had sold him chickens when he was a young boy, which he raised in town. 

Of course he failed to mention that the other council member was operating a feed store at the time and sold chickens to everyone in the Lompoc Valley.

Leading up to the council and planning commission hearings, the hype was intense, the proponents gathered support of social media and several spoke at the council hearing.  

At both hearings several members of the public spoke both in favor of and in opposition to the proposed change. 

Some pointed out that this issue has been under review for nearly three years, which is true. To be very candid, the focus of the very limited city planning staff and the planning commission has been on processing applications for new projects, not amending a definition to include hens. 

When the council discussed this, some asked whether the city had the resources to enforce a very subjective requirement that the hens should “not create an offensive noise or odor for adjacent property owners.” 

This ruling would be nearly impossible to enforce, because what one person considers offensive, others may consider pleasing.

The council discussion lasted for over an hour. Councilmember Jim Mosby, who displayed the stuffed chicken, offered a motion to approve the change which was quickly seconded by Councilmember Dirk Starbuck, but the motion failed 3–2.

So, what’s next for the household pets of Lompoc? 

The planning commission will soon begin the process of reviewing and bringing the zoning ordinance into conformance with the 2030 General Plan

The planning manager told the council that this issue could be addressed during that update, so the matter won’t disappear from view.

For now, chickens aren’t allowed to roost in Lompoc.

— Ron Fink, a Lompoc resident since 1975, is retired from the aerospace industry and has been active with Lompoc municipal government commissions and committee since 1992, including 12 years on the Lompoc Planning Commission. He is also a voting member of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association. Contact him at [email protected]. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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