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Council: Pigeons? Why not?
City officials took a step July 14 toward allowing Ceres residents to keep pigeons as long as they obtain a conditional use permit (CUP). Current city law forbids anyone from keeping pigeons within the city limits.

The Ceres City Council voted 3-2 to introduce a Zoning Ordinance text amendment that will permit residents to legally keep the cooing birds in aviaries through the CUP process.

Mayor Anthony Cannella and Councilman Bret Durosette were opposed to the measure.

"I live in the city - I do city things," said Cannella. "I would not like to live by pigeons, whether they're sport ... whatever they are. I'm still not in favor of this ordinance."

The proposed ordinance change will be back at the next council meeting for second reading and adoption.

Residents who want to legally keep a "non-hook bill" bird must apply for a CUP after getting at least 75 percent of immediate neighbors agreeing that the use would be okay. The CUP requires that:

• Aviaries shall be inspected by the county Health Department for recommendation on location, size, orientation and cleanliness;

• No more than 75 birds may be kept in an aviary but the actual limit will be determined by the Planning Commission based on the type of bird;

• Bird feed must be stored in a way that mice and rats can't get to it;

• Aviaries be kept in sanitary condition so that it doesn't become a public nuisance.

The ordinance covers to all racing pigeons, fancy pigeons and sporting pigeons. Flying pigeons would be allowed as long as their owner belonged to an organized pigeon club. Pigeons would be allowed to be released from their cage as they have not been fed within four hours.

The idea of allowing pigeons was first bantied around at the August 2007 City Council study session after the city received complaints from residents about the smells from birds being kept illegally at certain residences.

"It seems to me to be a bunch ado about nothing," commented resident Len Shepherd. "I see pigeons flying all around and they're not somebody's pigeons. They're wild."

He added: "It seems to me like we're just getting down to the point where we're not allowing people to do things because two or three people complain so we gotta have an ordinance for this and an ordinance for that. I think if people want to have pigeons, let them have pigeons and ... don't be sticking the city's nose into telling them they can't."

Steve Breckenridge called attention to a portion of the ordinance claiming the city had a "right of entry" for inspection of any premises. He won an admission from City Attorney Michael Lyions that the city could not enter the premises of a bird keeper unless it had permission or a warrant.

Vice Mayor Chris Vierra was curious about county parcels being annexed to the city that may have birds allowed by county ordinance. Planning Manager Barry Siebe explained that such a use would be grandfathered in as a "legal non-conforming" use, meaning birds would be allowed but not replaced with time. Anyone wanting to expand their collection of birds would have to obtain a CUP, however.