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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.

Valerie Snider February 07, 2012 at 04:37 PM
At last night's meeting, there was a contingent of "urban farmers" from Vallejo and Oakland who spoke in favor of animal slaughter in El Cerrito. I encourage residents of El Cerrito to contact city council members and express your opposition to animal slaughter in El Cerrito.
EClover February 07, 2012 at 05:49 PM
Why did you put "urban farmers" in quotation marks? Do you dispute their claim? Do you think they are slaughtering animals for religious rituals or for fun? I'm confused.
Valerie Snider February 07, 2012 at 06:23 PM
Okay - I stand corrected. They were urban farmers. Actually, I don't know if they are farmers (ie folks who grow fruits and vegetables). I should have said they are urban slaughterers.
jazrbabe February 07, 2012 at 06:24 PM
What about the health implications. How can we know that individuals will be responsible about cleanup and animal parts, possibly lying out on the property, attracting wild animals to come and feed etc.
Valerie Snider February 07, 2012 at 06:38 PM
Council members Cheng and Benassini take the position that everyone who slaughters an animal is responsible. Their opinion is based on the fact that no one has complained so far about slaughter smells, noises, or mess. However, given that the new animal ordinance doesn't take effect until April 6, I assume there have not yet been any slaughters in El Cerrito - hence, no complaints.
b6601975 February 07, 2012 at 07:16 PM
It is disappointing that El Cerrito chose to go down this road. Unfortunately animals will suffer and die before the city realizes that they made the wrong choice. I hope they make a decision to be compassionate toward animals and implement a ban on slaughter sooner rather than later.
Valerie Snider February 07, 2012 at 07:25 PM
Council members Cheng and Benassini believe that all animal slaughter in El Cerrito will be clean, sanitary, and humane. I guess you can call this the "wishful thinking" approach to regulation.
Paul February 07, 2012 at 09:00 PM
Sounds like there was also a contingent of animal rights people from Oakland. Perhaps there weren't many EC residents there because this really is a non-issue for most of us. It is a bigger issue for those with an agenda to push (animal rights).
Paul February 07, 2012 at 09:06 PM
I am glad Cheng and Benassini chose to leave it alone. I fully expect far more animals will be slaughtered on the streets of EC as the result of cars running them over than in all the backyards combined. There simply isn't any evidence to suggest that backyard farming (and slaughtering of a chicken from time to time) is unsanitary, and it's far more humane than factory farming. If the humane treatment of animals is the real issue here, then EC should ban McDonalds and Safeway (and most other mainstream food chains). I'm not much of an urban farmer, but my parents were and a few critters were slaughtered in our backyard. I don't think it's any of the city's business to say that should be outlawed.
Kyle February 07, 2012 at 10:25 PM
I’m glad that the City has chosen not to go down this path of imposing an unnecessary ban for a non-issue. The lone Council member who was in support of further studying the ban was Mayor Jones. He had some concerns, including the potential of ‘inflicting this practice on neighbors your’ (I don’t remember the exact quote). I’m not sure how slaughter that complied with existing regulations would effect neighbors; but in that vein I would think that inflicting the odor of large clouds of smoke from burning animal flesh on your neighbors would be of much greater concern. Yet there are no complaints about BBQ in your backyard; rather it’s celebrated as an American tradition. There are existing regulations which protect neighbors from offensive activities, and I’m glad our City will not be expending my tax dollars on this any further. P.S. I’m an El Cerrito resident (unlike the Oakland-based organization which proposed the ban) and I have no intent to be slaughtering my own farm animals. Gophers, roof-rats, and snails are another issue.
Kyle February 07, 2012 at 10:38 PM
@ Paul - thank you. The horrendous conditions that the animals that make up our meat supply are subjected to should be the real isue that should be attacked. These urban farmers are attempting to provide more humane treatment of the animals they eat, as well having a healthy supply of meat that is not full of dangerous growth hormones and anti-biotics. If the proposers of the ban were successful, they would force these right-minded people to contribute further to the huge factory farming problem. If their goal is to get people to stop eating any meat at all, then they should be educating the public at-large about the conditions our food supply-animals go through. I'm sure that a few videos of factory slaughter would get many people to voluntarily stop animal consumption. This could be much more effective than trying to impose their agenda through the formulation of local laws.
Kyle February 07, 2012 at 10:51 PM
I'm an El Cerrito resident and I'm glad the City will not be pursuing this non-issue. I'll contact my City Council members to let them know. The organized contingent from Oakland (NOBS) that was at the meeting is working on a larger agenda, it appears. Their support of animal rights and advocacy of non-meat sources of nutrition is, to me, a very valid point. But it should be voluntary and achieved through education, not imposing it on people by creating laws through deceptive claims of problems that don't exist.
Kyle February 07, 2012 at 10:57 PM
I supect it's the same way we know that people who buy plastic-wrapped animal pieces from the store, and then clean, cut, and cook them at home (and maybe throw the bones and scraps out in the yard for their dogs) are responsible. Except that these urban farmers have much more stake in the game. IMHO
Dorothy Coakley February 07, 2012 at 11:14 PM
Paul is right. I suspect that fewer animals will be slaughtered in the backyards of EC than in the streets. Squirrels, deer, the occasional skunk have died on my street. A bird or two has hit someone's window but I have yet to hear neighborhood complaints about the killing of chickens or bees.... Come to think of it, I may have terminated a yellow jacket or two during an outdoor barbecue. Those danged winged-devils love to hover around too close to our summertime barbecues. But the wasps don't seem to bother either the broiled zucchini or onions. Will I be fined for swatting at the bugs...or would you rather go after me for skewering Safeway beef kebobs? My advice? Don't go there....
Valerie Snider February 07, 2012 at 11:39 PM
Paul, it sounds like you and the pro-slaughter folks from Oakland and Vallejo have an agenda to push, too. At the meeting, there was only one EC resident supporting animal slaughter in El Cerrito. There was another speaker (not from EC, but representing his EC friend, who could not present) who spoke in favor of the ban. So, by my calculation, the residents of EC were represented 2 to 1 against animal slaughter.
Paul February 07, 2012 at 11:55 PM
If I'm pushing any agenda it's simply that people understand the connection between the food they eat and how it came to be on their plate. Buying something shrink-wrapped at the grocery store is "clean" and convenient, but leaves out 99% of the story. People who raise their own food know exactly how much work it takes to raise an animal, know exactly what goes into and comes out of that animal, and truely understand the value of the food when it lands on their plate. Unless one is a vegetarian (which is a fine individual choice), it is rather hypocritical to talk in terms of "pro-slaughter". I don't expect that I will ever slaughter anything in my backyard - but I am agitated by the idea that others would tell me I absolutely could not. I respect and admire individuals who are willing and able to commit the time and energy to producing their own food - more of us should do it.
Kyle February 08, 2012 at 12:05 AM
@ Valerie, I can agree with some of the principals you're espousing (prevention of animal cruelty, etc), but using loaded terms like "pro-slaughter", etc and mis-stating/distorting facts doesn't win over any converts for you. Nor does trying to force your agenda onto other people. It actually pushes people away from your cause. How does 'let people decide for themselves' classify as pushing an agenda? By the way, I was also at the meeting (for a different issue) and would have spoken if I had been more aware of the issue. Like Paul said, it's a non-issue for most of us El Cerritans. And I'm not pro-slaughter, but I'm pro-choice.
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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