El Cerrito leaders have indicated they won't pursue a ban on the slaughter of residential livestock in the city, an issue that has attracted strong feelings from those on both sides of the issue.
The City Council in November unanimously approved an ordinance allowing residents to keep some animals such as chickens, bees, small pigs and goats on their property. At the time, the council deferred a decision on the slaughter question for more study, which came last week in the form of a staff report and council presentation.
The report was advisory and, with only three members in attendance, the council could not legally vote on the slaughter of animals for food production within city limits. However, those in attendance indicated that the city should not pursue a ban, according to El Cerrito senior planner Sean Moss.
"The majority favored not devoting further staff time to an animal slaughter ban," Moss said.
Councilwomen Rebecca Benassini and Ann Cheng opposed a ban, with Councilman Bill Jones favoring a partial ban. Council members Greg Lyman and Janet Abelson were absent. No vote was taken.
An Oakland-based group calling itself Neighbors Against Backyard Slaughter was among those pushing a ban. The controversy has pitted groups favoring sustainable farming against those who are against any consumption of animals.
"It is unfortunate that El Cerrito chose to go down this path," the group said on its website. "Moving forward, we hope that El Cerrito will continue to research the issue and craft a reasonable animals ordinance that doesn't encourage residents to kill as a hobby."
Another Oakland-based group, East Bay Urban Agriculture Alliance, applauded the council for taking "a brave stance on raising and processing your own backyard livestock."
Linda Schneider, executive director of the group Sustainable Communities, was one of the driving forces behind the November ordinance allowing the animals to be kept within city limits.
She kept chickens in her yard when she lived in El Cerrito, spurring a three-year process that led to the ordinance. She has since moved to Richmond, where rules on residential livestock are more lenient.
"Once I started owning chickens, I could no longer eat them," she said. "At all. Ever."
But she doesn't condemn those who do, saying that "probably they will kill them in a much more humane way than the poultry industry."
Households could come to care for their animals and "may decide they couldn't eat the chickens. It would depend on the family," she said. "Hopefully, people who do it, do it in a way that is not only humane to animals but humane to the people around them and not done in a way to traumatize anyone."
Judy Hardin, founder of RabbitEARS, an adoption store for rabbits in El Cerrito, campaigned for a ban on slaughter.
"As an El Cerrito resident and business owner, I find it very deeply disturbing that El Cerrito has chosen to abandon the interests of all animals," Hardin said. "El Cerrito has been hoodwinked by a few politically motivated people who kill animals as a hobby."
Valerie Snider, an El Cerrito resident who spoke at the council meeting, said, "I would just like them to take a stand and say backyard slaughter of animals is prohibited. The people who do this claim that they slaughter the animals humanely. How do we know they slaughter them humanely?"
The agenda item presented to the council noted that language in the November ordinance provided for stronger nuisance and sanitation requirements, which should cover any residential slaughter.
A memo drafted by City Attorney Sky Woodruff questioned whether a citywide ban on slaughter might lead to backyard farmers having to use less-humane, out-of-town slaughterhouses.
The memo also raised questions about whether El Cerrito could enact a ban that didn't raise constitutional issues and unintended restrictions on religion and speech.