Mayor Jennifer Hosterman is appealing the Planning Commission's decision to deny an application to house her hawk in a backyard enclosure.
She filed the appeal Tuesday, according to the city clerk's office, after the commission's action at its Dec. 12 meeting.
Hosterman applied for an animal use permit more 14 months ago so she could continue housing her red-tail hawk Ariel in an enclosure in the back yard of her Vintage Hills home. The application had continually been delayed due to the mayor's scheduling conflicts and while city planning staff researched falconry and the current municipal code. When the application was heard last Wednesday, Hosterman wasn't present because she had a mayoral obligation, but advised the planning department to go ahead with her request in her absence. Hosterman said she was at a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Emeryville.
"I'm disappointed that the Planning Commission wasn't able to come up with a better end result," Hosterman said. "I'm disappointed that it looks as though we're going to be spending a lot more staff time and taxpayer money on this issue when really we ought to be talking about other issues that are important to the people of Pleasanton."
Hosterman said she appealed the decision to the City Council because "I'm hoping we'll be able to expedite this, come to a conclusion and move on." The commission discussed the permit at length but couldn't come to a unanimous decision. All of the commissioners were in agreement that allowing Hosterman a permit for her hawk didn't fit under the current city code requirements, which specifies permits for "fowl."
Neither the commissioners nor Hosterman said they consider a hawk a "fowl"--a term used for birds such as chickens, quails and turkeys--but Hosterman said the code could be amended to allow hawks, and that the commission was "getting bogged down in the verbiage."
"What I think would be cleaner would be to follow suit of the same process that other cities have gone through and that is to simply amend the code language to include the word 'raptor' as an allowable use," she said. "The reason that I believe that is that the issue is not the discussion of the merits of falconry. The issue is whether or not having a raptor in my backyard is having any kind of a serious or negative impact on any of my neighbors."
While the city of Pleasanton doesn't have a code specifying the keeping of wild animals, the cities of Dublin, Livermore and San Ramon do.
Dublin has what's called an animal fancier's permit that allows exotic or wild animals, defined as "any animal not ordinarily and customarily domesticated, including, but not limited to, skunk, raccoon, opossum, squirrel, and fox." Residents must pay a permit fee of $50, according to Anthony Owens, field service supervisor for the Alameda County Sheriff's Office. Dublin contracts with Alameda County Animal Control for services.
In Livermore, one can also obtain an animal fancier's permit allowing them to keep a wild or exotic animal. The applicant must already be in compliance with state and federal regulations pertaining to that animal. The cost for Livermore's permit is also $50. In San Ramon, the city has a wild animal section in its municipal code, stating that residents don't need a permit but need to register with Contra Costa Animal Control, which the city contracts with. There is no registration fee.
Hosterman said she doesn't understand why there's so much fuss over the issue. She said she's had her hawk house, called a mew, for at least two years, and it wasn't until a political adversary challenged her on it that the city went back on what it initially told her was allowed, prompting her to apply for a permit.
Dan Carl, the former campaign treasurer for Steve Brozosky, who lost to Hosterman in last year's mayoral election, went to the city attorney's office to bring up the issue of whether Hosterman needed a permit.
Carl spoke against the mayor's proposal at the Planning Commission meeting, saying he equated falconry with cockfighting or dog fighting.
"Residents wouldn't expect to live near a raptor," he said. "I think they should be living wild. It's a blood sport."
Carl also reiterated his concerns about safety against hawk attacks.
But commissioners refuted Carl's claims, saying they didn't believe safety was an issue.
Hosterman said Carl's claim is ridiculous and added that there's a better chance of a hawk in the wild harming a human than her hawk Ariel.
Commissioners Arne Olson and Kathy Narum said they wanted to continue the discussion to another meeting so that city staff could return with more research on what codes other cities have instead of making a final decision that night. However, Commissioners Phil Blank, Anne Fox and Jennifer Pearce said they would rather vote down the application and treat the matter separately by asking staff to draft a wild animal ordinance.
City planners, which were recommending the permit's approval, cautioned against denying the permit.
It would be up to the discretion of the City Council, not the Planning Commission, on whether drafting a wild animal ordinance was a priority or not, said city Principal Planner Donna Decker.
With the appeal filed, the city has to schedule her request to be heard before the City Council within 40 days, unless due to scheduling conflicts, the applicant (Hosterman) requests that it be delayed, according to Maria Hoey, office manager for the city's planning department. Because the request involves Hosterman, she will have to recuse herself from voting on the matter.
Hawk issue ruffles feathers, elicits questions
In the days after the Planning Commission delivered its decision, a number of posters have commented on the Pleasanton Weekly's Town Square forum, discussing anything from the merits of falconry to details about Hosterman's hawk and what she's fed.
Hosterman said she is a general falconer. She began as an apprentice falconer for two years and was promoted to general status by her master falconer Michael Pociecha last spring. She said she is awaiting official papers any day now officiating that status. A falconer must spend five years at the general level before moving up to master level.
Hosterman said she has both state and federal falconry licenses that she must renew every year.
Ariel was rescued near the Oakland Airport by her and her master falconer after Pociecha informed her that he had seen the hawk and another hawk circling the area. The pair trapped the two hawks and later released the second hawk, keeping Ariel.
"When she was first trapped, she was injured," Hosterman said. "She had been hunting squirrels and squirrels are notorious biters. In fact, they can bit toes clean off of feet. Squirrels are very dirty animals and they're filled with vermin and disease. I took her to a vet in Roseville to get her leg set and it was starting to mend."
Hosterman said this is just one of many times she's rehabilitated hawks.
Starting first at the Phoenix Zoo, she said she's also worked at a Santa Rosa wild bird sanctuary and for county wildlife in San Jose.
"This has always been a passion of mine," she said.
Ariel's food source has also come into question.
"Primarily, her food source is quail and I order frozen quail and there are a bunch of us falconers in the area and so we order bulk and get a better price," she said. "I try to mimic what she would experience in the wild so I try to fast her one day a week."
"Then, I also supplement her quail with rabbit," Hosterman said, adding that they are both frozen and live. She gets the live rabbits when she takes the hawk hunting.
"I go hunting about every three days," she said. "I have permission of private properties in Livermore that are wide open spaces with lots of game. I already have all the permits I need."
Hosterman added that she has a hunting license.
"The biggest thing is having a hunting license because even though you're not hunting with a gun or bow and arrow, you're still essentially hunting and there are some very strict rules about taking game out of the wild with a bird of prey," she said.
While Hosterman has had Ariel for more than two years, she plans to release the hawk back into the wild in March.
"The goal is to get her to the point where she is taking rabbits on a regular basis so that when I release her I will know that she will always be able to take rabbits and be able to take care of herself, take care of her mate, be able to take care of her offspring," she said.
Hosterman said she plans to trap another hawk after that, continuing her falconry, and when asked if she would ever have more than one at a time, she said "it's a possibility."