Political Notebook

Visalia supporters of backyard farm animals seek ballot initiative

Gingi Freeman of Visalia prepares to hand out copies of a proposed city ballot initiative to allow backyard chickens and miniature goats.
Gingi Freeman of Visalia prepares to hand out copies of a proposed city ballot initiative to allow backyard chickens and miniature goats. lgriswold@fresnobee.com

Voters may get the chance to decide if backyard chickens and miniature goats will be legal after all.

In June, a divided Visalia City Council voted 3-2 against allowing backyard chickens, while goats have not been subject to a yes or no vote.

Advocates calling themselves Urban Farmers for Food Freedom on Monday submitted a proposed ballot measure to the city to allow both chickens and goats.

The Family Food Freedom Act calls for homes in Visalia to be allowed six chickens and four miniature goats.

The Visalia city attorney has 15 days to prepare a ballot title and summary, and proponents have six months after that to file a notice of intent to circulate a petition, publish the ballot title and summary, and gather signatures on petitions.

If 15% of registered voters in the city of 130,000 sign the petition, the proposal would go to a special election in June 2016. That would equal about 7,000 voters, according to the city.

Gingi Freeman of Visalia, a mother of an infant and a toddler, is the group’s main leader.

She took up the cause because she’s not able to produce breast milk and was raising mini-goats in her backyard to produce goat’s milk to make baby formula, but the city ordered the goats removed.

“The fact of the matter is, Visalia is pro-goat and we vote,” she said Monday during public comment at the Visalia council meeting.

She challenged the council to change the city ordinance to avoid the cost of an election.

A special election could cost as much as $120,000, but if the vote coincided with the 2016 presidential primary the cost would be about half that amount, the Tulare County elections division said.

Mayor Steve Nelsen said later the council voted against chickens in regular residential zones — they’re allowed in rural residential and agricultural zones — while the goats issue has never been on an agenda, he said.

“The greatness of our political system is that citizens always have a recourse,” he said. “They can gather signatures and put it on the ballot.”

He urged proponents to “take a step back and take a breath” and engage the city in a discussion “where everyone talks and everyone listens.”

Susan Walsh of Visalia, co-chair of the Urban Farmers for Food Freedom political action committee, said many large cities allow chickens and mini-goats.

“I don’t want to see our rights being taken away, especially when it comes to food and what you put in your body,” she said.

Lewis Griswold: 559-441-6104, @fb_LewGriswold