The La Mesa City Council voted 4-1 on March 25 to amend the municipal code and allow people to keep domestic fowl such as chickens in single-family residential zones. Roosters are prohibited, and councilmembers called for a one-year review of the issue.
Mayor Art Madrid voted against the zoning change, saying, "There's more to it than having a nice chicken that lays eggs." Madrid said his concerns included "appeasing one segment of the population…. This is an urban community."
The council made some changes to the zoning change recommended by the planning commission on February 19. Commissioners recommended allowing one bird per 2000 square feet of lot area, with a maximum of 20 fowl. The council raised the amount to two birds per 2000 square feet in this city where the average lot size is 6000 square feet. The council also added a requirement that enclosures (coops) are covered to protect birds.
Before the vote, councilman Mark Arapostathis asked about regulations related to potbellied pigs.
Community development director Bill Chopyk said that two potbellied pigs are allowed.
The pigs are permitted on a lot that is 6000 square feet or larger. Also allowed on lots that size are two dogs and from two to 10 cats. According to a city report, the number of adult felines may be increased "if those cats exceeding the first two are spayed or neutered."
The city permitted 20 fowl on 15,000-square-foot lots, a designation removed when the amendment was approved.
Vice mayor Kristine Alessio said some residents kept chickens illegally and asked how many complaints the city received. Chopyk said the city code-enforcement officer was investigating a complaint from two days earlier about a rooster on Maryland Avenue. He said the city received less than 10 chicken complaints during the previous six months.
During the hearing, resident Heidi Grettenberger spoke about her legal chickens. She said her chickens are quiet and that a bird may lay one egg a day. "They may squawk to let us know they have an egg. Our neighbors love us because we share our eggs with them."
Arapostathis asked what happened after birds stop producing eggs. Grettenberger said some people eat the birds. "We have children," she said. "We haven't faced that yet."
Complaints caused elementary school-age siblings Addie and Ellie Tweet to relocate their chickens and rally for the amendment. "I used to have chickens, and I really want them back," said Addie.
Rex Smith said his neighbor's chickens drew flies to his house.
Virginia Rodriguez said that the presence of chickens at two nearby homes attracted "predators" to her Lemon Avenue neighborhood. Rodriguez said predators "got" neighbors' chickens and killed a neighbor's dog.
"We lived in our house for 48 years, and we never saw a coyote in our yard until the chickens came. This is not a sweet little farming community; we're an urban neighborhood. When people have chickens in Lakeside, they protect their chickens with guns."
Madrid raised issues such as the whether the presence of chickens would discourage people from moving to La Mesa.