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Council Says No to Animal Slaughter Ban

With only three of five El Cerrito Council members present, it took only two to make the majority decision Monday night to reject a call for adding an animal slaughter ban to the city's new backyard farm animals law.

The El Cerrito City Council Monday night again withheld support for an animal slaughter ban in the city.

At issue was whether the making it easier for residents to keep chickens, bees, goats and pigs should include a .

Only three of the five councilmembers were present, with Rebecca Benassini and Ann Cheng siding in a two-person majority against a ban. Major Bill Jones said he was torn and indicated he would favor a partial ban that included exceptions. Council members Janet Abelson and Greg Lyman were absent.

No formal vote was taken. The decision took the form of council members giving "direction" to the staff but appeared to have the same result as an official vote. City Attorney Sky Woodruff indicated that the staff would not proceed with work on developing a ban but would monitor the impacts of the new law and report back to the council on any indications of problems that need to be addressed.

The council decision followed public comments at the meeting that pitted opponents of do-it-yourself slaughter against urban homesteaders. All but two of the nine speakers on the topic came from outside El Cerrito, a sign of the growing public controversy over the issue and attention devoted to El Cerrito's policy.

Ian Elwood, of Oakland-based Neighbors Opposed to Backyard Slaughter, read a list of cities that he said ban animal slaughter, including Merced, Chicago, Corpus Cristi and Denver among others. Emily Wood, also of Oakland, voiced the commonly heard criticism of inhumane and cruel deaths suffered by animals slaughtered in backyards.

Esperanza Pallana, an organizer with the East Bay Urban Agricultural Alliance who has an urban farm in Oakland, listed cities that she said permit slaughter and said she supports home-raised animals as a way to secure meat free of toxins from animals not abused by horrendous practices of factory farms. She and other supporters of home-raising of food animals said such animals have a far more humane life, and death, on small urban farms than on industrial factory farms.

The two El Cerrito residents who spoke offered opposing views. Valerie Snider urged the council to "please take a stand against cruelty," while Emily Corwin said "banning the backyard slaughter of animals is against the spirit" of the new animals law, which was adopted in part to support sustainable living.

Corwin said she was speaking as an individual, not in her role as chair of the city's Environmental Quality Committee, where the proposal to allow backyard farm animals started 2-1/2 years ago.

When the council approved the new backyard farm animals ordinance in November, opponents of backyard slaughter urged that it also include a ban on do-it-yourself killing of animals, arguing that the practice is usually cruel and inhumane in the hands of amateurs.

The council at that time declined to add the ban but asked staff to report back with more information on how the city might adopt a ban if it chooses to, including potential legal liability and enforcement options.

That staff report came back Monday night, with an analysis by City Attorney Sky Woodruff saying that much staff time and expense would be required to craft a ban that could withstand legal challenges, allow religious animal sacrifice as a Constitutionally protected practice and leave room for permissable exceptions.

Councilwoman Cheng said, for example, that a ban would have to contend with kids who feed mice to pet snakes or families who bring home live lobsters for dinner.

Woodruff recommended against adopting a ban, saying the city could rely on state law banning cruelty to animals in combination with city law on nuisances and sanitation to address concerns about home slaughter. (His analysis is attached to this article.)

Cheng said the new animals ordinance is intended in part to promote sustainability, including the ability to raise one's own food, and that the city's economic distress, made worse with the loss of the Redevelopment Agency, means that the limited staff and financial resources should be devoted to economic development and pressing civic problems.

Jones said the cost of developing and possibly defending a ban in court is secondary to the policy issue of whether "the cause is right." He said that the law should at least ban slaughter in front yards or within view of neighbors.

"This is a new and emerging issue," acknowledged Councilwoman Benassini, who was a member of the Environmental Quality Committee when the proposal for backyard animals arose. She said one purpose of the law is to give residents more choices for obtaining food beyond buying it and that imposing a ban on animal slaughter would be "taking away a choice."

Fees for new animals ordinance

The three council members also unanimously approved permit fees for residents who wish to keep chickens, bees, goats and pigs under the ordinance. The fees range from $75 for chickens to $584 for goats and pigs.

The city staff report on the fees (attached to this article) said the fees were set according to similar fees in El Cerrito and other cities and took into account staff time and expenses. "Staff also considered the amount of processing time, postage, and other costs in determining the recommended fee and permitting process for each new permit," the report says. Some permits will require notifications to neighbors by mail.

City senior planner Sean Moss told the council Monday night, for example, that the over-the-counter chicken permit would require staff time to verify the applicant's claims about distances from property lines. One requirement of the law on chickens is that coops be kept a minimum distance from property lines and neighboring homes. Details on the law for each animal can be found on this earlier Patch article.

Benassini said she found the fees reasonable, noting that the fees are one-time only, whereas a dog license ranges between $20 and $40 per year. Some staff time and expense are necessary to balance the rights of the animal keepers with other residents, she said.

Here's the list of fees from the staff report:

Permit Fee Residential Chicken Clearance $75 Honeybee Keeping Clearance $90 Goat Weed Abatement Permit $75 Unanimous Neighbor Consent Exception  
$25 Administrative Use Permit for Animals $584

For more background on this topic, you can see our past stories by clicking "El Cerrito Animals Ordinance" next to Related Topics below this article. For alerts on future stories on the issue, click the "Keep me posted" button below the article.

Tamsen February 08, 2012 at 12:37 AM
I would like to think that we can agree and disagree with each other without it being assumed that we are pushing agendas. I know I have no agenda whatsoever, and frankly, have never even thought about this topic much before this. I do know that my nieces, who are all in 4H, raise chickens, goats, and pigs for...slaughter. They take loving care of their animals, and indeed, at the end of the day, those animals are slaughtered in a way that is certainly more humane than any of the meat I buy at the store for my family. I could never do that in my life! But I do not judge them for their choice, and certainly would never participate in passing any sort of law prohibiting them from this practice, any more than I would be appalled if they tried to prevent me from buying meat from the grocery store. What perhaps needs to be distinguished is animal abuse and animal slaughter. They are not one in the same, in my opinion. Again, this is my opinion. Please do not respond by labeling me, calling me a name, or telling me that I am pushing an agenda. It is an idea. I am open to reading yours.
Valerie Snider February 08, 2012 at 02:15 AM
Kyle - I haven't distorted or misstated the facts. If you find the words pro-slaughter loaded, it leads me to believe you're uncomfortable with animal slaughter in a residential area. (Would you be opposed to me calling someone pro-education, or pro-health?) So even though it's a non-issue to you, you're somewhat uncomfortable with it. Yes, we're all "pushing an agenda" You, me, and the folks who traveled from Vallejo to oppose a ban in EC. My agenda has to do with potential cruelty to animals; as well as issues of sanitation and public health. There are many valid reasons to oppose animal slaughter in a residential area. For your information, many cities have banned animal slaughter. It's a fairly mainstream position.
Luis Zavala February 08, 2012 at 05:59 AM
@MK, well said.
b6878987 February 09, 2012 at 07:37 PM
Do they cry when the animals are taken away?
Tamsen February 09, 2012 at 09:15 PM
@b687 I think not for the chickens, but I know my niece would not eat the pig! But they do not think of the chickens as "pets," whereas the pig had a name and everything. But my brother's family does eat the chickens; their yard is very clean, and you would never know that an animal had been slaughtered there for food consumption. I can't even go fishing because I cannot kill the fish if I catch it, but these kids seem to have a different schema for food vs. pets.

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