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Council keeps ban on backyard chickens
City plans to strength some ordinance violations
Anyone who has this type of scene on their residential property in Ceres is breaking the law. Despite higher egg prices in the market, the Ceres City Council is unwilling to relax its ban on chicken raising on residential lots, citing concerns over sanitation, noise and flies. Chickens was on a list of ordinances discussed at last weeks Ceres City Council Study Session. - photo by Contributed to the Courier

Chickens will still be against the law to raise in the city limits of Ceres.

Plastic bags won't be banned in Ceres stores by city law pending outcome of a 2016 state proposition.

Council meetings will start earlier on the second and fourth Mondays - at 6 p.m. - instead of 7 p.m. Study sessions, which are normally set before council meetings, will now be incorporated into regular council meetings under "Discussion items."

Those are among the determinations by the Ceres City Council during a Study Session held on Monday, May 11.

Members reflected on updating city ordinance that affect everyday life in Ceres.

Despite the cities of Modesto and Turlock both having ordinances that allow the backyard raising of chickens for eggs, the Ceres council has a different take. Mayor Chris Vierra said that a big difference between those two larger neighboring cities and Ceres is that they have their own animal control officers and Ceres has a limited contract with the county. Because of that reason, councilmen are reluctant to change the ban on chickens.

Many cities ban chickens because of sanitation reasons, including odors and flies. Modesto and Turlock have very strict limitations on chickens.

"If you read Modesto's and Turlock's ordinances, there's very few lots where it will actually work based on their setback requirements," said Ceres City Manager Toby Wells. "In Modesto the coop or pen has to be 40 feet from any existing home. The same with Turlock. They (chickens) are required to be 20 feet from the back fence and 25 feet from the side fence so if you've got a small back yard that isn't going to work. The only lots that it's going to work in both those places are probably over 7,000 square feet or over 60 feet wide.

Wells said the council wants to move certain violations to the infraction process to take care of other problems in a speedier fashion than the process outlined in ordinances. Those violations include parking vehicles, RVs, campers and boats on residential lawns.

Wells said the city has a policy of not allowing more than 50 percent of a front yard area to be covered in concrete. Some residences have completely concreted their front yards against the city ordinance and use it for parking vehicles.

"There is currently no link to enforcement," said Wells. "The whole purpose here is tightening up the language so it's crystal clear as to what people can and cannot do and tie the enforcement to it."

The city can't do much against a property owner who has gone crazy with paving over their front yards except to go through a "very, very time consuming for what type of win."

The city wants to also look into strengthening fines and regulations to fight medical marijuana dispensaries. The city does not allow pot dispensaries in any zone district but conflicts with state and federal law as well as growing public acceptance.

Councilmembers also discussed enacting new controls over clothing drop boxes which have cropped up from time to time since 2012. In most cases, the boxes are being placed in shopping centers without permission from the owners. The city has issued 20 citations to companies who placed the boxes without a permit which totaled $4,609 in fines. Most companies are ignoring the fines but the city did receive payment for $523.

Stronger enforcement of door to door sales men, and vendors who peddle products from a van or pushcarts or on foot are also in the council's sights but lower on the priority list.

"It's not a huge problem but it's things we get complaints about," said Wells. "There's enough of them who don't have permits."

Also on the lower priority level is beefing up the city's noise ordinance against loud music since there are not many complaints lodged.

"Our (noise) ordinance is very simple and very subjective. If you look for comparison, just the difference in detail, our ordinance on noise is a page and a half. Turlock's details on ordinance is like 37 pages. They take the subjectiveness out. There are specific distances where it's measured, specific decibel levels ... much more objective measurement. It's a little easier to enforcement."

Ceres has changed its ordinance since 1975; Turlock did theirs in 1997.