New rules on backyard animals being drafted

New rules on backyard animals being drafted

Michele Ellson

UPDATE: The draft regulations have been posted here:

If you’ve got an ass, there are rules in Alameda’s municipal code that govern its life on the Island. But the city’s code is silent on sheep, goats and the beehives that are becoming an increasingly popular fixture in local backyards.

But city officials, with the help of local backyard farmers, are working to change that. They’ve put together some proposed revisions to the city’s decades-old animal rules, and they’re seeking the public’s input on them at a community meeting scheduled for Thursday.

Lucy Gigli said a number of Bay Area cities have changed their rules on animals to reflect the growing popularity of backyard farming, and that Alameda's leaders are seeking to do the same. She said Assistant City Manager Alex Nguyen asked her to “gather up as many people as I could who were interested in helping to craft some reasonable rules in Alameda.”

Gigli, who founded an Alameda Backyard Chickens Yahoo group, said some other cities’ rules she checked out read as if they had been written “by somebody sitting behind a desk who knows nothing about raising animals in an urban environment.” In contrast, Alameda’s proposed changes were drafted by local backyard bee, chicken and goat keepers, she said.

“All of it comes from people who’ve been raising these things for a while in Alameda,” Gigli said.

Questions about the city’s animal rules surfaced in 2011, when animal control officials told a West End couple their pet pig, Bosco, would have to go after receiving a complaint about him. Police Chief Michael Noonan chose to grant the pig amnesty from a 1935 city rule that doesn’t allow pigs within 300 feet of homes. But City Manager John Russo told the City Council last week that it’s time to formally change Alameda’s rules.

Nguyen said the city’s rules date back to the days when Bay Farm Island was a farming community. But times have changed.

“We’re really dealing with backyard farm animal keeping. At this point, nobody’s proposing slaughter or sale,” he said.

The new rules being proposed would allow residents to keep two pigs of up to 200 pounds each, Nguyen said; existing rules allow up to five pigs, and more if their owner has an acre for each. The proposed rules would also expressly allow people to keep three regular goats or four goats each, three sheep, six beehives and eight rabbits; none of those animals are governed under the city’s current codes.

The city’s animal rules on chickens were updated in 1983 – after almost a half century on the books – to allow people to keep up to six chickens, geese or turkeys, provided their coops were 20 feet or more from neighbors’ homes. (People who already had as many as 20 fowl were given a break on the rules, provided they registered them with the local animal shelter.) Nguyen is proposing allowing residents to keep as many as eight chickens.

Nguyen said that the city would remove rules for horses, cows, mules and donkeys. And the new rules would offer specifics on permits, licensing and fees; he said the city is going to propose treating large animals the same way it treats dogs. Enforcement of the rules and specifics on how to deal with, say, an escaped animal, also needs to be spelled out, he said.

“We had an experience where it took us – one chicken got out, and it took a while to get the chicken,” he said.

The city’s existing rules prohibit horses, mules and other animals from grazing on public streets or unfenced lots; they also prohibit sales of live chicks, rabbits or ducklings as pets or novelties “whether or not dyed, colored, or otherwise artificially treated” (though selling them as food is okay). Exotic animals are also prohibited.

Nguyen is hoping to get the new rules to the Planning Board for its consideration before city officials go on their summer break.

The meeting will take place at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the Regina K. Stafford Room at the Main Library, 1550 Oak Street.