The Policy Committee meets the fourth Wednesday of each month to discuss items for the Council to consider at an upcoming meeting. The Committee met at 4 pm on November 28th with an unusually long agenda. So I decide to attend and find out which way the Council would be headed over the next few months.
While this isn't a public meeting it isn't closed to the public either. I have attended Policy Committee meetings in the past, but not recently. They are held in the main Conference Room at City Hall. The Conference room was crowded with staff members, members of the Economic Development Advisory Committee, and a representative from a sports league. Each of these groups was there to discuss something on the meeting agenda.
The first item was about offering Home Occupancy Permits for Educational Services. Residents with a home business can get a business license and operate a business as long as customers do not come to their home. Tutoring, music lessons, and even scout meetings, are frequently held in homes, and the discussion was about expanding Home Occupancy Permits to, as Committee Member Dave Hudson put it, "allow what is already being done."
Neighboring cities, Danville, Pleasanton, Dublin, and Walnut Creek already allow at least 2 students and sometimes 3 per day for educational purposes. Livermore is limited to one-on-one tutoring. San Ramon has no such allowances. Staff will send the proposed changes to the Planning Commission before it goes to the City Council for final approval.
The next item discussed was Bee Keeping and raising Chickens in residential neighborhoods. There is nothing in the Zoning Ordinance about bee keeping, for or against it. However, bee keeping is considered an agricultural activity and bees are "farm animals." Gee I never would have guessed that.
Bees can fly considerable distances from the hive, so Associate Planner Shinei Tsukamoto recommended allowing bee keeping only in larger properties on the West side of San Ramon.
Right now chickens can be kept as "pets," and are not limited in number. However, chicken coops are restricted to setbacks of 60' from the front of a property and 40' from the sides and back. Since most residential lots are 1/6 acre, these setbacks make it difficult to put a 10' chicken coop in a typical residential neighborhood.
Councilman Dave Hudson was more concerned with chicken by-products than the chickens themselves. He is worried about the possibility of West Nile Disease. West Nile disease is spread by mosquitos, which could be attracted to chicken poop. I'm not sure how realistic this possibility is, but Committee Chair, Phil O'Loane, said he hadn't considered it but thought it was worth looking into.
I asked if someone wanted to put in a coop with less than the setbacks if they could get a use permit. Planning Manager Debbie Chamberlain said it's possible but not easy. Instead staff will reduce the setbacks and limit the number of chickens allowed. Mrs. Chamberlain called it "residential or personal use," so it could not be run as a commercial or business operation from a home.
I contacted a friend of mine who lives in Livermore and has chickens. Well she had chickens, but she caught a raccoon eating one next to her swimming pool one night. After that she tried to get the chickens into a coop, but wound up giving them away to a friend with a bigger yard and no pool.
Another friend in Pleasanton has six chickens. Here's an edited response to my questions.
We have 6 hens in a coop in our yard. When I was building the coop I asked the City Animal Control officer and he said the coop looked great and the location was fine.
Raccoons I heard were a problem. So I build fort Knox with 1/2 wiring on all sides and below so they can't dig in. The only problem we had was rats! So I sealed every possible entrance and have not seen any since.
I do a twice weekly cleaning of the roosting area, cedar shavings, and rake out the dirt daytime area. It's been a good experience for our family and we love eating the eggs and sharing them with neighbors."
The next item on the agenda was to consider the role of the Economic Development Advisory Committee (EDAC) and possible changes to the Committee's Bylaws. Economic Development Director, Marc Fontes, felt that the EDAC lost some of its direction with the dissolution of the Redevelopment Agency by the State. Several members of the EDAC were at the meeting as well as Stewart Bambino from the Chamber of Commerce.
Dave Hudson said that even without a Redevelopment Agency there is still State and Federal money that could be obtained for infrastructure, sustainable community strategies, and grants. Phil O'Loane said that opportunities are in a state of flux. The EDAC will stay in an advisory role to the City Council, but the Chamber of Commerce should also play a larger role for the City.
The next item was on financing artificial turf on sports fields in Central Park. The Parks Department needs $1.7M to convert two baseball fields and a soccer field to artificial turf. Frank Abajian is on the "turf committee," and organizes the Raptors Lacrosse Group. He said that his teams cannot play Lacrosse in the off season when it rains because of the wet surface. He said the artificial turf would make a big difference for the Lacrosse teams.
The plan is to recruit sponsors by putting their names in the "carpet" or turf, rather than putting up a sign with a name on the sports field. Phil O'Loane said, "It is worth pursuing," and thanked Abajian for his support.
The Speed Limit Ordinance was on the agenda but wasn't discussed. The Tobacco Ordinance wasn't on the agenda, but residents who subscribe to Open San Ramon received an email about it. The Express has an article with all of the details about it on the front page.
The meeting closed out with a discussion about changing public comment so Council meetings don't run so long. This was something I objected to when Councilman Dave Hudson first brought it up a few months ago. I plan to write a future blog on the proposed changes.