Chickens were the stars of the show Tuesday at the Santa Rosa City Council meeting.
Hailed as healthy, sustainable, comforting, educational and just plain fun, backyard hens were removed from forbidden status in most Santa Rosa neighborhoods by a unanimous vote of the seven-member council.
"We have a lot of outlaw chickens in our city, and we would like to give them some amnesty," Councilwoman Susan Gorin said.
All Sonoma County cities except Rohnert Park allow residents to raise backyard hens within certain limits. But under Santa Rosa zoning ordinances, having chickens is prohibited except in all but a few neighborhoods zoned "rural residential."
Still, hundreds of families in Santa Rosa surreptitiously raise hens in backyard coops, spurred by the locavore food movement, homesteading efforts and a desire to teach their children about where food comes from.
So when the Oakmont Senior Living development company applied last year to change the city codes to allow a large chicken coop for its senior citizen residents, a variety of groups with a common fondness for chickens got behind the effort.
The changes, which the council will formalize later with a second reading of the ordinance, will among other things allow a 30-hen coop and pen at the company's Fountaingrove Lodge, which is under construction on Thomas Lake Harris Drive.
Specifically, the council legalized backyard hens solely for egg production and approved guidelines under which they can be kept.
Those include limits on the number of hens, depending on lot size, from three on lots smaller than 5,000 square feet to a maximum of 30 for the largest parcels; setbacks of at least 20 feet from the closest dwelling; and requirements that the hens are in secure enclosures maintained in clean conditions.
The ordinance won't alter the ban on roosters in neighborhoods.