Richmond has become a "guardian city."
The Richmond City Council late Tuesday voted to amend the municipal code to replace the word "owner" with "guardian" in reference to residents who have furry, feathery, gilled or scaled companions.
"It didn't cost the city anything, yet it really furthers the quest to treat animals humanely and improve human behavior," said Councilman Jeff Ritterman, who authored the motion. "This really ups the consciousness level of treating all with humanity and kindness."
While Richmond's council has a growing reputation for taking leading roles on progressive issues, the move to efface "ownership" of living beings from the city's law follows the lead of other Bay Area cities.
Marin County, San Francisco, Berkeley, San Jose and Albany are among the Bay Area governments that have taken similar steps in the past 12 years, said Anita Carswell of In Defense of Animals, a San Rafael-based national nonprofit animal protection group.
IDA launched the "Guardian Campaign" in 1999, which posited that the word "owner" does not "properly reflect the bond that develops between people and their animal companions and does not accurately indicate our responsibilities."
The word change has no legal impact on pets or people who have them, city staff has said.
But in Richmond, a blue-collar town struggling with high unemployment and a $2.9 million budget deficit, the measure drew plenty of ire in recent
On the ordinance's first reading in late June, Councilman Nat Bates grumbled that "this council has gone to the dogs." Several residents agreed, lambasting Ritterman for proposing the item.
"We need jobs and important public business done, and you are trying to give our goldfish and hamsters self-esteem?" resident Don Gosney said.
Carswell, a Richmond resident, said she was shocked at the vitriol surrounding the ordinance.
"The council, and many of the residents who attend the meetings, is so polarized right now," Carswell said. "It's crazy how divisive the politics are."
The idea of changing the municipal code came last year, Carswell said, when Ritterman helped lead the successful effort to prohibit the sale of live chickens at Richmond's Certified Farmer's Market.
In February, Carswell and other animal rights advocates approached Ritterman with the "guardian" idea. Ritterman agreed, with the caveat that they would wait a few months to put it on the agenda. The public meeting agendas tend to slim down in summer.
Tuesday's passage came with some levity, a rarity within the city's bruising City Council theater. Councilman Tom Butt, who has several goats on his property, said he would vote in favor of the measure -- only because it would elevate him from "a lowly goat herder to a goat guardian."
Bates, who had been critical of the measure and voted against it during its first reading in June, softened his position. He abstained from the vote.
"We are grateful to Bates," Carswell said. "It was a good-natured move on his part and a reminder that we can find common ground in Richmond."
Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726. Follow him at Twitter.com/roberthrogers.