The Urban Farmers for Food Freedom (UFFF) has finalized their initiative and will be submitting their paperwork to the City of Visalia next week. The Food Freedom initiative states that a maximum of 12 food-producing animals will be allowed per residence. Those 12 animals could be composed of no more than eight fowl and four miniature goats. Pot-bellied pigs were taken out of the initiative since UFFF’s last meeting. Fencing and animal enclosures are also addressed in the initiative.
Once the draft initiative is submitted, Mike Olmos, Visalia city manager, has 10 days to do an impartial review and write a summary. In order to save the city money, Olmos may opt to negotiate with the UFFF a compromise that everyone could live with. The measure will have a fairly easy path to the ballot, and if it qualifies for the June ballot, will cost the city approximately $120,000.
If all sides can agree on the language of a new household animal ordinance, small farm animals may be legal in Visalia as soon as this fall. The ordinance would also have to be approved by the Visalia City Council. Gingi Freeman, chair of UFFF, is of two minds about negotiating. She would like to bring her two goats home as soon as possible for the health of her daughters and because the goats are due to give birth in September. But she would also like to have the satisfaction of a food freedom initiative go up for a vote.
If the city decides not to negotiate with the UFFF, the group will start the process of gathering signatures in mid-July. To get on the June ballot the UFFF needs to get 7,200 signatures. This equals 15 percent of those Visalians who voted in the last election. For the November ballot, they need 4,800 signatures, which represents 10 percent of the voters. Either way, everyone involved is confident the signatures will be gathered quickly and easily.
According to Freeman it’s not a matter of “if” small farm animals will be legal in Visalia, but a matter of “when.”
“This initiative is going to win,” she said.
The UFFF is planning on making an announcement at the July 6 Visalia City Council Meeting during the public comment period.
Freeman is basing her optimism on information gleaned from the city’s documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.
The public hearings in May, and the vote on June 1 against allowing chickens in residential zones, generated many calls, emails, letters and public comments both for and against. After Freeman received the documents, she tallied the correspondences and public comments concerning the debate.
She found that 85 percent were in favor of legalizing chickens and that only 15 percent were against.
This information goes against what Mayor Steve Nelsen said during the June 1 city council meeting.
Nelsen said he took his own straw poll and he found that 99 percent of those he talked to did not want chickens allowed in residential areas. Greg Collins based his no vote on his experience as a city planner.
His said that legalizing chickens in residential areas causes more problems than it solves and creates more fights than not.
Councilmembers Amy Shuklian and Warren Gubler voted in favor of changing the ordinance.
While Councilmembers Link and Nelson stated that they vote “the will of the people,” Freeman found otherwise while reading through the city’s emails.
“Mayor Nelsen, Bob Link and Greg Collins did not respond to a SINGLE pro-goat or pro-chicken e-mail sent to them,” she said, “but responded to EVERY SINGLE anti-chicken and anti-goat e-mail with warmest regards.”
Freeman continued, “On the May 4, May 11 and June 1 city meetings, out of public comments for and against owning miniature goats and chickens, more than 85 percent were pro-goat and pro-chicken at each meeting. But again, this did not stop Mayor Nelsen, Bob Link and Greg Collins from ignoring the majority in favor of their own pre-conceived prejudices and personal opinions.”
Nelsen and Link acknowledged that most of the speakers during public comment represented those who were in favor of legalizing chickens, but said that the silent majority did not.
Freeman explained that the city only saves emails for 30 days before they are deleted and that some of the anti goat and chicken emails may have arrived before May 1.
State government code requires most types of public record to be maintained for at least two years, but gives leeway to local governments to develop their own policies.
Only saving emails for 30 days though presents a new set of problems concerning transparency for Visalia, Freeman said.