(I sent this to all of the Tacoma City Council this evening. Any responses received will be posted.)
Dear Mayor Baarsma, Honorable City Council Members:
My wife and I were dismayed to learn that the City of Tacoma is considering banning poultry in conjunction with its overhaul of the animal control ordinances. I understand that a hearing on this issue was held on December 12, 2006. I am sorry we did not know of the meeting because this is an issue of great concern to us.
We keep five hens in our backyard in Tacoma. They live in a clean and spacious coop. All of the eggs they produce are consumed in our home. We were very careful to check the Tacoma Municipal Code when we started raising them and were happy to comply with its provisions.
None of our neighbors have ever complained about our small flock. Indeed, our next-door neighbor tells us that our birds soothe him. Another neighbor is delighted to see our chickens bounding about catching bugs. We think they are an attractive asset to our neighborhood. It also is a wonder and a great pleasure for us to eat fresh home-grown eggs.
What are the policy concerns behind a total ban?
I ask this question seriously, especially given the fact that the proposed ordinance does not contemplate banning dogs or cats. I am not proposing such a ban, but rather am raising the point that certainly more public nuisances involve barking (and biting) dogs or howling stray cats than chickens. (I also note that the draft proposes banning rabbits—a quieter and meeker creature is hard to be found). Whatever the rationale may be for banning rabbits or chickens, certainly the same could be invoked more forcefully for dogs and cats.
I ask the Council to keep in mind that banning chickens is in fact a change in land-use policy. We use our shy quarter-acre to raise grapes, blueberries, raspberries, apples, pears, garden crops, and our chickens. The birds are integral to our production. The proposed ban would disrupt our attempt at producing wholesome food in an integrated and self-contained manner.
I also remind the Council that Washington State law frowns upon the drastic measure of a total ban on a previously recognized use:
"An ordinance requiring an immediate cessation of a nonconforming use may be held to be unconstitutional because it brings about a deprivation of property rights out of proportion to the public benefit obtained."
State ex rel. Miller v. Cain, 40 Wn.2d 216, 218 (Wash. 1952)(quoting Austin v. Older, 283 Mich. 667, 278 NW 727 (1938).
So the policy question is quite legitimate. The draft ordinance proposes to deprive a property right completely out of proportion to any readily identifiable public benefit.
The current ordinance is sufficient.
The current ordinance already prohibits raising other livestock without express permission from neighbors. 5.23.010. In addition, the code specifically regulates how chickens should be kept. For instance, it prohibits chickens at large. 5.30.020. It regulates how close to other dwellings they may be kept. 5.30.010. It allows for variances in situations in which neighbors approve. 5.30.030. The current ordinance reflects Tacoma's traditional progressive attitude of encouraging neighborly tolerance and productive use of land. There is no need to change these provisions.
But, if there is some pressing problem not known to some of us residents, wouldn't the proper and more sensible remedy be to adjust the existing provisions to address the issue? Instead of banning chickens altogether, address the specific problem, if there is one.
Backyard flocks are growing in popularity and allowed in many other cities.
I hope the Council is aware that other cities do not ban chickens, but in fact have actively encouraged backyard flocks. Madison, Wisconsin; Des Moines, Iowa; Portland, Oregon; and even the glamour girl to the north, Seattle, all expressly allow for backyard flocks. What is possessing Tacoma's leaders to abandon their city's heritage and go against the trend that is followed by other progressive and beautiful cities? I hope it is not a desire to turn Tacoma into some kind of sanitized cookie-cutter community. There are plenty of those to choose from elsewhere.
Consider that more people are interested in fresh food and locally-grown produce. Tacoma's successful Farmer's Market thrives on this interest. The City should encourage this trend. Backyard flocks are a simple, unobtrusive, and satisfying way of producing wholesome local food. A total ban on chickens is contrary to the interest of sustainable local (and small-scale) farming.
Many people we have met are delighted to know that we produce our own eggs. Visiting children are invariably fascinated. They are eager to learn of things that, in the past, were common knowledge. A ban on raising chickens destroys this heritage. Instead of children having the opportunity to actually raise their own bird, learn responsibility, and gain understanding about where food comes from, they would be forced to visit museums.
For these reasons, and for the personal reason that we enjoy our five hens in the backyard, I ask the City Council to reject the draft proposal with regard to poultry and rabbits.
In addition, I request a response to my question regarding the policy considerations and an actual copy of the proposed ordinance.
Thank you for your consideration.
Vic and Lauren Bottomly,