10:13 p.m. PDT July 6, 2015
Goat and chicken supporters want to bring the matter to Visalia voters
And some of the members indicated that they wouldn’t support the council considering a similar proposal to allow raising miniature goats in residential areas.
After the vote, Gingi Freeman of Visalia — who had started a grassroots campaign to allow the raising of miniature goats and had embraced the proposal for raising chickens — said the matter wasn’t over.
The supporters of her “I’m Pro Goat” movement planned to start a ballot initiative to allow voters to decide the matter.
On Monday, she and a group of supporters kept that promise by filing with the city of Visalia their intent to put on the ballot for Visalia voters an initiative to change zoning laws to allow people to raise chickens and miniature goats in residential neighborhoods.
“I certainly regret doing this, but the time has come to remove the discussion from uncaring hands,” Freeman told the Visalia City County members later in the day, when she informed them of her group’s action.
Freeman and her supporters have formed a political action committee, Urban Farmers for Food Freedom, to work on organizing the ballot initiative.
In an interview earlier in the day, she said the group has been holding meetings with supporters to figure out what they want in a ballot initiative and meeting with lawyers to develop the wording.
“That’s what took most of the time,” she said, adding that initially the initiative was going to include other animals — rabbits, quails and doves among them — but members of the PAC decided to focus on chickens and goats for now and possibly add other animals after the initiative passes.
Freeman’s involvement in all this began when a city code-enforcement officer said she and her husband had to get rid of their two pygmy goats because small livestock are prohibited in city neighborhoods.
She has a toddler and infant daughter whom she feeds goats’ milk to as a substitute for breast milk, which she can’t produce. And buying goat milk is cost prohibitive, Freeman and her husband said.
So Freeman started a movement to change the rules for goats, and about that time City Councilwoman Amy Shuklian proposed changing the zoning to allow people in residential areas to raise chicken — though not roosters — for eggs or to eat.
Freeman and her supporter ended up folding both ideas into their cause, saying that Visalia residents should have a right to raise their own food. They also argued that chickens and goats aren’t any more disruptive than dogs — sometimes less so.
Prior to the June 1 vote, Councilman Greg Collins said allowing chickens might create a “slippery slope” that could prompt efforts to permit geese, peacocks, horses and other animals to be raised in residential areas of the city.
“I hope we don’t have a chicken in every yard, but I want to give everybody who wants it an opportunity,” Shuklian said during that meeting, before she and Councilman Warren Gubler cast the two yes votes to allow chickens.
Collins, along with Steve Nelsen and Bob Link, cast the no votes.
At Monday’s meeting, Freeman criticized the three councilmen for not listening to their constituents in Visalia, the majority of whom she believes would support her group’s ballot initiative.
She also told the members who voted no that voters would remember how they voted when it comes time for reelection.
As for the ballot initiative — called the “Family Food Freedom Act” — it would allow city residents to raise up to six chickens and four miniature goats that wouldn’t be counted against the maximum number of pets, primarily dogs and cats, the city allows people to have.
Like the original proposal for chickens, no roosters would be allowed.
The initiative also sets requirements for the minimum space a home would need to raise “food-producing” animals, along with requirements for fencing and protection from predators.
“This initoative will put the needs of family first and reestablish the basic human rights to independence and food freedom,” Freeman wrote in her preamble to the ballot initiative.
A copy of that initiative was submitted Monday to the City Clerk’s Office, and the city attorney has 10 days to review the document to ensure the wording meets legal requirements.
Once that’s done, Freeman said she and her supporters will have 180 days to get signatures from about 7,000 registered voters supporting the initiative. If they get the signatures, the initiative will be on the June ballot.
Freeman said she’s confident in getting those signatures, as the group collected about 2,000 signatures from voters who supported changing the city’s ordinance on small livestock in just four signature drives at the Visalia Farmers Market.
And considering all the support her and her group has gotten, Freeman said she’s confident voters would approve the initiative.
But she’s hoping things will not have to go that far.
Freeman explained that the City Council could pass the initiative on its own or negotiate with Urban Farmers for Food Freedom to modify the submitted initiative and then approve that.
She told the council members that putting the initiative on the ballot could cost the city $120,000 or more.
“Why would you want to burn through the taxpayers’ money to fight an inevitable ordinance change?”