Hollister Animal Control officers recently cited a local resident on suspicion of having too many chickens in violation of the city’s municipal code. The resident, however, says the citation is unfair because the city’s ordinance is not written clearly enough.
Hollister Police Department’s Animal Care & Services Office initially received a complaint in November for a noise nuisance at a home on the 1700 block of Nora Drive, according to Officer Alyssa Bautista. Thinking there might be a rooster on the property, which is not allowed in the city limits, officers visited the home to inspect.
Officers did not find a rooster on site, but determined the home had nine chickens in violation of the city’s poultry limit laws, Bautista said. Officers issued the resident, Alex Reichstadt, a “correctable citation, with the understanding we would go back in two weeks to ensure they had rehomed the (excess) chickens to satisfy the requirements,” Bautista said.
The household had nine chickens on the property, which Bautista said is in violation of the city ordinance that limits the animals to six per person.
Reichstadt, however, noted that his family of six people lives at the home. By his interpretation of the city ordinance, they should be allowed six chickens per individual who lives at the home—up to 36 in his case, he said.
The Hollister municipal code regulating the keeping of poultry and other small animals says, “No person shall keep more than six live poultry, rabbits, cats or other small fur-bearing animals over four months of age on any premises which are in a residential zone.”
After Animal Care & Services issued Reichstadt the citation in November, Bautista said the residents “became uncooperative and wouldn’t allow us on the property.”
Officers later received another report from a nearby resident about noise coming from the Nora Drive home. Animal control officers attempted to follow up with Reichstadt’s household by telephone, but officers were told they would need a warrant to enter their property again.
Animal control officers returned to Reichstadt’s home on July 8 and determined the family had not corrected the suspected poultry violation, Bautista said. The officers seized all nine chickens “pursuant to the noise ordinance and being over the limit of poultry,” she added.
Reichstadt was cited again for having too many chickens, Bautista said.
Bautista noted that animal control officers typically try to address complaints verbally and amicably where there is no immediate threat to the health or well being of animals or people, before undertaking strict enforcement efforts.
“We want to work with people as much as possible before taking extensive measures to gain compliance,” Bautista said.
Reichstadt said Hollister Animal Care officers returned to his home July 11 and returned all nine chickens, apparently still in good health.
He said the citation lists a penalty of a $100 fine, but does not state a date by which he has to pay it or rehome any chickens to gain compliance. He added that the city’s animal control office has not responded to his communications refuting the alleged violation, and he doesn’t know how he will ultimately respond to the citation since he thinks it is based on a vaguely worded city ordinance.
Reichstadt said he keeps the chickens to produce eggs for his family, and has taught his children to care for the animals and be responsible for their livelihood. He added the family has never had a rooster that crows on the property.
“I just want to live in peace and have eggs,” Reichstadt said. “The reason we moved to Hollister was so we could have chickens.”
Other nearby cities also have a limit in residential areas of six chickens per person—not per property or household—with additional provisions. The City of San Juan Bautista’s municipal code on the keeping of chickens is identical in wording to that of Hollister’s. The City of Gilroy’s code states, “(It) shall be unlawful for any person to maintain more than six (6) small animals (in any combination) on any premises in residential zones within the city not zoned for agricultural use.”
The City of San Jose’s code also limits chickens to six per person, but allows more with a permit in residential areas.
Hollister City Attorney Mary Lerner said Hollister’s municipal code on the keeping of poultry has been in place since at least 1998. The city council can update or otherwise change the municipal code at any time by adopting an ordinance amendment.