It boils down to this: Is suburbia ready for backyard-laying hens? City Council to decide Wednesday

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Feeling cooped up by the pandemic? Maybe you’re among those who would like to see the City Council start pecking away at a local ordinance that bans chickens within the city limits.

Cities across the country including San Diego have approved suburban chickens with certain restrictions, and now that possibility has come before the Bakersfield City Council — or will this Wednesday night.

It’s not just because the pandemic has inspired a certain survivalist instinct in some — although that’s part of it. The pro-chicken people say it helps cut grocery bills and feeds a closeness to the earth that is healthy and instructive for children. Kalli Beckwith says, between her family’s massive garden and their chicken coop, her two boys know where food comes from.

“That’s why I started the garden, to have an organic source of food and know exactly where it comes from,” said local resident Kalli Beckwith, who raises suburban chickens. “The eggs are the same way. Knowing that we can go out and pick our eggs and know that the chickens weren’t kept in a one foot by one foot square.”

The proposed ordinance would allow nearly anyone with a backyard to raise up to 12 hens. But opponents of the proposed ordinance say chickens are noisy and a danger to public health.

Bill Descary, the city’s retired treasurer, says the ordinance could require as little as 10 feet between a chicken coop and a neighboring house. And that, he says, is just not enough distance.

“Four chickens, 10 feet,” he said. “You need to know what 10 feet looks like. It’s short. Way too short.”

Gary Simmons says allowing chicken coops next door to neighbors with compromised immune systems is irresponsible.

“The issue is that we will suffer from illness and death because of this decision,” he said. “The other issue is you have 85,000 R-1 homeowners invested in Bakersfield who are unaware there is an ordinance out there that will allow chickens and farming to be next door, which will depreciate their real estate values.”

Christopher Boyle of the city’s Development Services department says staff has laid out the advantages and disadvantages for the City Council.

“I don’t have any predictions,” he said. “I think that the council will weigh the information that they’re been delivered to them so far and them absorb any testimony both pro and con.”

To chicken or not to chicken — that might seem like a trivial issue, but boiled down to its essence it’s a debate over health and safety versus freedom and self sufficiency. It should all be over Wednesday night — but it probably won’t be over easy.

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