Encinitas subcommittee rethinks livestock buffers


A subcommittee tasked with updating Encinitas agriculture rules is no longer in favor of relaxing residential livestock buffers, which would have made it easier to raise chickens or goats without special permitting.

The subcommittee at its Nov. 12 meeting voiced support for maintaining current city livestock setbacks — the distance chicken coops and goat pens must be kept from neighboring homes.

Subcommittee members Councilman Tony Kranz and Deputy Mayor Catherine Blakespear said that after hearing more from the public, regulations for chicken and goats don’t seem to be broken. The subcommittee also said they don’t want to distract from other goals in the proposed agriculture ordinance, namely reducing the permitting burden for upstart farms.

“Currently people who want to have chickens and goats do,” Blakespear said after the meeting. “And there’s no reason to stir up the pot by changing things that don’t really need to be changed.”

Kranz during the meeting said critics of the draft ordinance have made the case that chickens should only be allowed in rural areas like Ramona. In reality, he added, chickens are already OK in some instances under Encinitas regulations.

“One of the things we had realized is that in trying to update our urban agriculture ordinance, it was inviting criticisms that were essentially unnecessary,” Kranz said.

Blakespear said the draft ordinance is focused on encouraging new community gardens and small commercial farms by cutting red tape and reducing costs. Such operations presently require a $1,600 minor-use permit to get going, while the subcommittee is advocating for a simplified $250 agriculture permit.

“The goal is to have a clear path,” Blakespear said, noting the recently launched Encinitas Community Garden was delayed over and over by an uncertain permitting process.

Proponents of the agriculture ordinance have said it would encourage a new crop of farmers and keep the city’s agricultural heritage alive. Opponents argued the subcommittee’s prior livestock rules would have created noise and sanitation issues.

The ordinance previously called for allowing up to 15 chickens in residential areas without permitting if the coop is at least 15 feet from surrounding properties.

Current regulations require a 35-foot setback for raising up to 10 chickens, a distance that means only those who have large backyards can keep chickens without getting city approval. Likewise, the rules are presently similar for goats, while the draft ordinance would have made it OK to have two goats sans permitting.

Those with smaller yards can still keep chickens and goats if they obtain an agriculture permit. The city would look at potential impacts to neighbors in deciding whether to grant one.

Besides questions about setbacks, the seven members of the public at the meeting didn’t weigh in on the subcommittee’s reversal on livestock buffers.

The subcommittee’s draft ordinance in August went to the Encinitas Planning Commission, which voted to continue the hearing so that city staff could answer questions over how the ordinance will be enforced and whether cities with similar ordinances have experienced problems.

Blakespear and Kranz said while the subcommittee is now pushing for the current livestock setbacks, the Planning Commission could still advocate for relaxing them. The ordinance will eventually go to the full council for consideration.

A recent citywide “robocall” criticized the idea of loosening livestock setbacks. When asked after the meeting whether this played a role in the subcommittee’s change of heart, Kranz said the robocall generated support for the ordinance.

“I got more feedback from people who thought it was an outrageous phone call than I heard from people who thought we were doing the wrong thing,” Kranz said.

Another part of the draft ordinance would let homeowners sell fruits, vegetables and “value added” products like jam from residential farm stands for up to 12 daylight hours a week without permitting. That’s so long as the products were produced onsite and the stand is no more than 120 square feet in size.

The subcommittee also aims to take new San Diego County beekeeping rules and extend them to more city households.

Under an ordinance the San Diego County Board of Supervisors recently passed, homes can have two hives within 25 feet of roads and property lines and 35 feet of neighboring homes without a permit. City code only allows beekeeping in areas that are zoned for very low density, but the subcommittee wants these county rules to apply to all single-family residential zones.

When approving the new regulations, the county board cited the importance of pollinators for agriculture. Supervisors also said they want more European bees to combat Africanized bees, which are known for swarming in large numbers.

“We’ve traditionally followed county code with agriculture, so it’s understandable to follow their lead,” Kranz said after the meeting.

This article was updated to clarify the subcommittee’s beekeeping goals.