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Chicken measure flies with voters

November 4, 2010

A sign in favor of Measure C, found at the corner of Fair Drive and Sierra Street Tuesday, takes an image from a flyer circulated around Bishop in recent days and replaces the original “No” with a “Yes,” because, apparently, a “Yes” makes more sense given the sign’s message. Photo by Darcy Ellis

The feathers are still up in the air, but preliminary results show that chickens will be coming home to roost in the City of Bishop.
As of Wednesday morning, the Inyo County Elections Office said that Measure C, dubbed the “Chicken Measure,” received 474 “Yes” votes over 338 “No” votes in Tuesday’s election.
However, there were more than 1,600 absentee ballots turned in on Tuesday that must be painstakingly certified and counted before an official tally can be reached. It cannot yet be determined by the elections officials what percentage of the absentee ballots are from the city, where there are 1,504 registered voters. The office is reporting a 74 percent voter turnout from Bishop.
Sentiment surrounding Measure C and the issue of residents being allowed to raise urban fowl has ranged from the opinion that the city is in the 21st century and should evolve from its bucolic history, to the argument that the measure is about personal freedom and what a person can or cannot do on their own property.
The controversial measure arose after some residents made complaints to the city about their urban chicken-farming neighbors. The existing ordinance prohibited “chicken yards” in the city limits.
The Bishop City Council opted to take the matter to voters, via Measure C which allows residents to have on their property up to four chickens or rabbits, or any combination of the two, if placed in clean coops that cannot be seen from public view. They must also have sealed feed containers.
Pete Watercott, a chicken proponent and one of the authors of the Arguments in Favor of Measure C in the official Voter’s Guide, said the issue “goes beyond chickens and rabbits; it’s about what people can or cannot do in their own backyard.”
He said he also heard there were some who were voting against the measure because they wanted more than four chickens or rabbits. Watercott said these people should tell their elected officials, the City Council, their concerns.
Mayor Pro-tem Bruce Dishion said Tuesday before the voting was complete that he’d be happy with any outcome. Dishion said he was pleased with the ordinance the council and staff had drafted, and that the choice was being made by voters and not five council members.
Dishion was the council member who pushed for the issue to be put before voters.
He said that if the ordinance does pass, he hopes those who want to keep chickens will abide by the new law and have respect for their neighbors.
Dishion, a retired police chief, added that there are no provisions for enforcement in the new ordinance and said that aspect of the measure will be “untested waters” for the city.
A pair of staunch opponents, who wished to remain anonymous, said Monday that they do not want to see the ordinance pass. They said a major point in favor of the ordinance was so agriculture students could raise chickens and rabbits in their own homes. The pair said they couldn’t understand why these students couldn’t use the Tri-County Fairgrounds, which supplies ample space for critter housing.
“Quite honestly, I don’t believe farm animals belong in the city limits,” one of the pair said. “This isn’t the sticks, we’re in a technological age.”
Another anonymous Bishop resident said he refused to vote on a “ridiculous ballot” that included Jerry Brown and Barbara Boxer along with chickens, the legalization of marijuana and tax breaks to big corporations.
The Elections Office said a count of absentee ballots began at 8 a.m. Wednesday.
For updated county election results as they are made available, go to the Recorder/Elections Office Web site at http://www.inyocounty.us/Recorder/Clerk-Recorder.html.

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