Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Chickens, Chickens Everywhere: The Differences Between the Ordinance and the Ballot Initiative

Boy, there's a lot going on in the world of Denver backyard barnyards right now! Between talk of a Food-Producing Animals ordinance and a 6-chicken ballot initiative, it's no wonder that things get confusing. I've had several conversations with people who think that these two efforts are one in the same, or are taking qualities of one thing and mistakenly attributing it to the other. So, I thought it would be worthwhile to take a moment and explain, as clearly as possible, the differences between the ordinance and the ballot initiative. I think it is important for anyone who supports chickens, sustainable food systems, or urban Food-Producing Animals to understand the two options.

(Note: This post also contains information on what you can do to get involved -- look for the ***** near the end.)

Ordinance -- Sustainable Food Denver (my organization) has been working on a comprehensive ordinance to allow Food-Producing Animals without a permit. You can read more details about the specifics of the process here, but basically we are part of a working group that includes folks from City Council, Community Planning & Development, Animal Control, and the Department of Law that is creating a basic outline for the ordinance. The outline will go to the Sustainable Food Policy Council (SFPC) this month for consideration, at which point the various agencies that participate in the SFPC (like Denver Urban Gardens, Slow Food Denver, Transition Denver, Feed Denver, The GrowHaus, Sustainable Food Denver, and many more) will discuss the outline with their members and ask for feedback. Then, in February, the SFPC will incorporate that feedback and produce a recommendation for a new Food-Producing Animals ordinance.

It isn't possible to know what will end up being in the ordinance until the SFPC produces its recommendation in February. However, there is a good chance that it may give us the opportunity for a pretty progressive FPA policy -- for example, it may allow 8 female fowl (chickens or ducks)  and 2 dwarf dairy goats -- without requiring a permit. In addition, an ordinance like this would allow us to include a few common-sense guidelines for the keeping of these animals, like a certain amount of permeable ground (i.e. dirt) required per animal. For example, the ordinance might require 10-16 square feet of permeable ground per fowl, and 130 square feet per dwarf goat. (This will work similar to the bee ordinance, where there is not a permit, but there are guidelines for placement of the hives.) The guidelines for chickens and goats will not be onerous, or exist to create barriers for people who want to raise these animals. They will be meant to support the keeping of healthy animals, and will be in line with other progressive FPA ordinances across the country.

Once the SFPC makes its recommendation, the proposed ordinance will go through various city and public processes, eventually making its way to City Council by (hopefully) April. At that point, with enough help (look for the *** below to see how you can help!) a new Food-Producing Animals ordinance will get passed by the City Council. We are well on our way to getting enough votes to pass an ordinance like this, and there is considerable support for it in the community, on the Sustainable Food Policy Council, within city agencies, and within City Council. I really believe that we can pass it -- otherwise I wouldn't be working so hard on it!

Ballot Initiative -- As  we mentioned, there is also a potential ballot initiative. This ballot initiative would allow for the keeping of 6 female chickens (no roosters) without a permit. There is no language in the ballot initiative regarding how the animals are to be kept (for example, there's no minimum land requirement), and the ballot initiative does not allow for ducks or dwarf goats. The ballot initiative is the thing that requires the gathering of signatures -- if you've seen a petition to allow chickens in the city, that is for the ballot initiative.

The first thing you may notice is that the possible FPA ordinance (8 fowl, 2 goats) is far more comprehensive than the proposed ballot initiative (6 hens). Another thing to understand is that a ballot initiative is like "doubling down" in a poker game. It could pass, but it's risky. If we don't pass our FPA ordinance in April, we can always then petition for a ballot initiative afterward (for the November ballot). However, if we push a ballot initiative and it gets voted down by the public, then City Council will not consider FPA issues for at least another 2 years.

And here's where it gets tricky... if the chicken ballot initiative gathers enough signatures, then it will be certified for the ballot and after March 3rd nobody (including the person who wrote it) has the power to pull it off the ballot. This means that we could potentially be in a situation where we DO pass our comprehensive FPA ordinance in April, but then if the public votes for the 6-chicken initiative in May, the initiative will actually UNDO parts of what we passed in April. In other words, we'd go from 8-12 chickens down to 6 chickens. I know it's confusing, but that's part of the conundrum we're in.

My personal wish is that we would wait on the ballot initiative, and give this comprehensive FPA ordinance a chance to pass City Council. If it doesn't pass the City Council vote, I promise you that I will be the first person to grab a clipboard and stand in front of the supermarket collecting signatures for a ballot initiative. If we proceed with our efforts in a logical order (ordinance first, then ballot initiative if we have to) we stand a good chance of getting what we want... but if we do things out of order then they could really get messed up.

*****How You Can Help*****
The information regarding helping with the ballot initiative (if you choose to do so) can be found here. If you'd like to help us pass the comprehensive FPA ordinance (8 fowl, 2 dwarf goats) Sustainable Food Denver is organizing people into council district "Action Teams," so that I can contact you at appropriate times and encourage to lobby your City Councilperson to support our FPA ordinance.

Please email me at sustainablefooddenver@gmail.com and let me know what council district you live in. If you're not sure, just send me your cross-streets and I'll look it up for you. We will be rallying the Action Teams to talk with their councilmembers and neighbors, and we'll be sure to provide you with all the information you need to advocate for this issue.

Thank you for your willingness to help us develop a more sustainable food system in Denver. If you have any concerns, or if there's something you'd like to see included in a new FPA ordinance, let me know and I'll pass the information along.

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