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City Council to consider repealing hen ordinances on Wednesday

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Bakersfield hens are seen in this file photo.

A Bakersfield City Council vote scheduled for Wednesday could repeal a number of ordinances that allow many homeowners to raise hens in their backyard.

In September, the council voted 4-3 to allow hens to be raised at most single family homes. However, a lawsuit by an anonymous group calling itself Citizens for the Preservation of R-1 Zones claimed the city did not properly follow the California Environmental Quality Act in passing the new laws.

Before the new ordinances came into effect, the city agreed to impose a temporary restraining order on urban hen legalization as the lawsuit was considered in court. In exchange the group’s legal representative, Channel Law Firm, agreed not to seek attorneys fees for the restraining order portion of the lawsuit.

In a Jan. 20 mandatory settlement conference, the petitioners demanded the City Council rescind the hen ordinances, conduct an appropriate environmental review if the council pursued and adopted new hen ordinances, and pay $9,151.36 in attorneys fees, according to an administrative report compiled by the City Attorney’s Office.

The issue has been placed on the consent calendar, a block of votes that are decided on all at once by the council and not individually discussed. The council typically reserves the consent calendar for routine and non-controversial items, a curious place for something that has generated much debate throughout the city.

The possibility of losing something that had been so close to becoming the law of the land has many hen supporters in Bakersfield nervous.

“Our biggest issue is this group or their legal team is not willing to negotiate or come to a settlement,” said Kalli Beckwith, who recently wrote a letter to the City Council urging it not to rescind the ordinances. “They’re just trying to strong-arm it. They don’t want to work toward a solution.”

The city used the common sense exemption to avoid conducting a large-scale environmental study on the impact of legalizing backyard hens. With the exemption, the government can bypass a CEQA analysis if a project can clearly be demonstrated to not have significant environmental impacts.

The litigants argue the city improperly applied the common sense objection, and say hens have the potential to bring noise, odor and disease to homes across Bakersfield.

The city’s ordinances allow a sliding scale of hens depending on the size of a homeowner’s backyard. With a 10-foot setback from nearby residential buildings, four hens could be raised. A 30-foot setback allows 12 hens to be raised.

The Development Services Department estimated at least 83,335 parcels would be eligible to house urban hens under those requirements.

On Wednesday, the councilmembers will decide whether they want to keep it that way.

You can reach Sam Morgen at 661-395-7415. You may also follow him on Twitter @smorgenTBC.