Planning commissioners not ready to put all their eggs in one basket

Motion made to extend public hearing on backyard chickens to May 16

Those expecting a decision on backyard chicken regulations from the Plumas County Planning Commission will have to stay tuned to see what hatches at the continued public hearing.

A backyard chicken ordinance proposal was on the commissioners’ agenda Thursday, May 2. After discussions lasted more than an hour, commissioners decided to collect again Thursday, May 16, at 10 a.m. for further discussions.

A full dozen county department representatives and residents gathered to peck over recommendations presented by Associate Planner Tim Evans.

May 2 proposal

Under current Plumas County zoning, chickens are not allowed in 2-R, 3-R and 7-R single-family residential areas.

This means areas designated as towns and excluding the city of Portola, agricultural areas and developments with their own homeowner regulations. Areas that allow chickens are S-1 for Suburban, S-3 for Secondary Suburban, and R-10 and R-20 for Rural. Residential zones combined with F for Farm Animal Combined Zone also allow chickens.

The permitted use in these areas is covered by small animal husbandry.

“Plumas County Zoning Code is a Euclidean zoning code,” according to the background report. “If the use is not specified in the zoning code, the use is not permitted.”

Although the details have not been approved by the commission, it was noted that the proposed ordinance for backyard chicken keeping is in line with the General Plan.

“The proposed ordinance complies with and helps satisfy three goals, three policies and one implementation measure,” according to Evans’ documentation.

It is proposed in an effort to help implement Goal 6.8 concerning Healthy Communities. This states, “To support the community values for healthy lifestyles and access to health care facilities among residents of Plumas County through the built environment and land-use decisions that play an important role in shaping the pattern of community development and in promoting good health and food security for visitors and county residents.”

The project is exempt from requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act, according to Evans.

The proposed plan concerns chickens, but doesn’t include other fowl such as peacocks, turkeys or waterfowl.

What Evans initially went over changed as discussions took place during the public hearing.

Six chickens

One of the main concerns from an earlier Planning Commission meeting was how many chickens could someone keep.

A maximum of six chickens are allowed on legal parcels, under the new proposal. These are the typical family-sized lots.

The maximum number of chickens is 12 on parcels that are twice the size of the smaller lots.

No roosters are permitted and no slaughtering is allowed.

Although some members of the audience objected to not allowing roosters, Plumas County Planning Director Randy Wilson seemed firm on that.

Admitting that roosters don’t bother him — and there are at least three within his own neighborhood — they annoy others.

Wilson said that a member of 4-H had a special permit for chickens in town last year. That individual had several roosters and the neighbor became incensed over their noise.

Wilson reissued that 4-H permit again this year, but was strict when it came to absolutely no roosters being allowed.

James White, the American Valley 4-H poultry project leader, stood up for the benefits of having roosters.

White said that for those who order their chickens from an approved source, people can opt for pullets (hens) but even those at the source are only about 90 percent accurate in sexing the chickens.

White was also prepared with statistics on just how much noise a rooster makes when it crows. Dogs barking and the average lawn mower cutting the grass are far higher on the decibel scale, he said.

White also pointed out that roosters are the peacekeepers within the flock. They keep the hens from fighting and pecking at one another. White also said that roosters help defend the flock from predators. There are also known ways to keep roosters from crowing, White said.

Chicken owners are also not allowed to sell eggs without meeting the requirements specified by the state and managed by Plumas County Environmental Health.

Commission Larry Williams said that he likes to stop and buy eggs from the occasional source. But he seemed to understand state regulations.

And no one stated that someone from the planning department would start investigating who was selling eggs to a neighbor or friend.

What’s a chicken to do?

Backyard chickens are allowed on properties that have a fenced rear yard.

Some discussion took place regarding whether chickens can be allowed to roam free.

Resident Ellie Hinrich said she didn’t want to see her chickens cooped up all the time. She wants to be able to let them out in the backyard where they can eat bugs in the garden and “do their thing.”

Wilson said that as long as chicken owners had the run and other means it wouldn’t be a problem to allow the chickens to run within the property boundaries. “I had chickens, but it was on an 800-acre ranch,” he said.

Where’s a chicken to live?

Chickens must have a covered roosting area also known as a coop and a chicken run where they can walk and run about.

The proposal included information about how and where the drainage should run.

Plumas County Department of Agriculture and Standards Inspector Willo Vieira didn’t think the May 2 plan came up to scratch when it came to predator information.

Vieira pointed out the initial proposals specify that coops should be predator-proofed on the top, sides and bottom.

Vieira said the plan mentions keeping bears out of the coop. She said there’s nothing in Plumas County that is bear proof “unless it’s a cinderblock building.”

Because of this she recommended that bears be removed from the list of predators.

This eventually led to a discussion about the term predator proof. Assistant Planning Director Becky Herrin said they used to use the term predator resistant for other requirements. That seemed more reasonable to Vieira and others.

Another objection Vieira voiced was including the flooring as part of the predator- proofing plan. She said that chickens have to be able to scratch in the dirt. It’s good for them and it helps control mites.

“All birds love to scratch and dust themselves,” Commissioner Jeff Greening said. He agreed with Vieira that the coop needed to have an open floor.

Vieira also thought the amount of space recommended per bird in the coop was excessive. The plan currently calls for 6 square feet per chicken. Vieira said that organic chicken raising sources recommend 2 square feet per chicken.

After considerable discussion commissioners thought they could specify that a minimum of 2 feet per bird was necessary, but then it was up to the owners to decided how much more run they wanted to have per bird.

Quincy resident Rose Buzzetta said that if someone is going to go to the trouble of getting chickens they’re going to do the right thing for them. She also emphasized not over regulating chicken ownership requirements.

Where shall they eat?

White was back again to address concerns about placing feeders and water containers inside the coop. Chickens are messy eaters, he explained. They like to dig through their feed looking for that one piece that appears to be identical to all the rest, yet seems best for the chicken to eat. And they get food everywhere.

“I can certainly agree with you on how they eat,” Greening said. He then demonstrated how a chicken pecks and looks and spills the food around.

But with the chicken food inside the coop and the mess created, it only attracts invasive rodents and predators, White explained. With the food outside the roost there’s less incentive to predators.

Should chickens have lights?

At the April 4 meeting, it was recognized that the coop requires lighting, either for someone to see the hens or to increase egg production during the winter months, which was subject to a building permit.

Greening said at that meeting and repeated it May 2 that he’s especially concerned about the person who runs an extension cord to the coop and the bare bulb hangs over a bale of hay.

“I don’t use a light,” Vieira said. “I use a heated dog (water) bowl,” in the wintertime for her chickens.

Since Vieira lives on a ranch at the edge of East Quincy, she can have as many chickens as she wants. However the permit for a light inside the chicken coop remains the same.

“It’s hard to regulate how people are going to use extension cords,” Wilson explained.

Wilson added that people should get the right permit for lighting inside a chicken coop. Then he said, “You can’t keep people from themselves,” despite the best of intentions with regulations.

The purpose

“We’re putting people on notice to do it right,” Herrin explained about the purpose of the ordinance. The planning department doesn’t send someone out to inspect a chicken coop. However, if a planning or building inspector is on the property for something else and sees a violation then the planning department has the written code to enforce the situation.

Before commissioners were ready for a vote, it became clear that as they addressed items point by point they weren’t ready for a vote. Greening suggested that the public hearing be extended to the next meeting. He told Evans to make the changes and then have commissioners brood over them once again.

Wilson agreed with continuing the public hearing to May 16. “There’s more to chickens than you think about,” Greening concluded.

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