Margo Powers doesn't want to be "the chicken lady." The 34-year-old mother of three is frankly surprised that the four laying hens in her backyard are creating a squawk in her neighborhood.
But after receiving a notice from Sacramento County saying the chickens need to be removed within the month, Powers has to decide whether to comply or fight for Clarabelle, Minnie, Mary and Alice – two Light Brahmas and two Rhode Island Reds. "It was never my intention to stir up the neighborhood," said Powers. "I just have four little chickens that give us fresh eggs every morning."
Keeping urban chickens is a growing trend in a society increasingly interested in where its food comes from. The city of Sacramento is considering legalizing egg-laying chickens, drafting policies that are expected to go before the legislation committee in March.
Sacramento County allows chickens on parcels greater than 10,000 square feet, which is almost twice the size of Powers' rental property along Mira del Rio Drive.
Powers moved into the two-story home framed by a venerable oak tree in September. It was a bittersweet move: Powers and her husband, Michael, had just lost through foreclosure the 2,000-square-foot, three-bedroom Rosemont home they had lived in for 11 years.
The couple ran the popular but petite Village Bistro in Old Fair Oaks for five years. Almost two years ago, they opened a bigger spot in Town & Country Village – The Terrace, a white-tablecloth breakfast-and-lunch restaurant. The timing was unfortunate as the economy slid into its steep decline.
"I would spread the bills around and say, 'Who can close our doors tomorrow?' And we'd pay that bill first," Margo Powers said.
Fairly quickly, the couple were forced to make a choice: the restaurant or the house.
"We made the tough decision to stop paying on the house," Powers said. "If we had kept the house and lost the restaurant, where would we work?"
Their bank would not grant a home-loan modification, Powers said, because their business was losing money. And when the restaurant started operating in the black, it was too late.
Powers found the Mira del Rio house on Craigslist. Renting wasn't easy for a couple with poor credit and no regular pay stubs. Then there were the chickens, raised by their children since they were fluffy day-old chicks.
Landlord Cynthia Buendia didn't think the chickens would be a problem. There is one neighbor on either side of the house, and the back fence is at the foot of the levee reining in the American River, a regular stop for wild turkeys, quail and wood ducks.
"They're really good tenants and they've maintained the home really well," said Buendia, a paralegal. "And the chickens are their pets. If someone came to me and said, 'By the way, we don't allow dogs in the neighborhood,' I would have a difficult time coming to grips with that."
A neighbor reported the chickens to the county's nuisance line last month, said county spokeswoman Annie Parker. The chickens have to be removed within 15 business days from when the county sent a warning letter, and code enforcement officers will check to make sure Powers complies after Jan. 18.
An option to appeal the violation would cost $500 and bring the issue before the county's Board of Supervisors, said Supervisor Don Nottoli, in whose district Powers lives.
The current chicken laws "have worked over time, but maybe this is the time to revisit this," Nottoli said.
Julian Adragna, who lives across the street from Powers, said he didn't know there were chickens in the neighborhood.
"That's fine with me, I don't care," he said. "It's their yard."
Next-door neighbor Kelly Cohen welcomes them.
"They're harmless, and she is providing her family with nutritious food," said the retired wildlife biologist.
But another neighbor, Angel Verdugo, finds the clucking and coos in the morning bothersome.
"They're not roosters, but I can hear them inside my house with the doors and windows closed," said Verdugo, a project analyst for a technology company. "During the week, we're not home, but on the weekend, when we want to sleep in, we have definitely heard them and that's when they become annoying."
Verdugo said he was not the neighbor who complained to the county, but would like to see the chickens go.
"The law is the law," he said. Read the full story at the Sacramento Bee.