Mayor Jennifer Hosterman won her 15-month battle to keep her red-tail hawk Ariel in a backyard cage at her Vintage Hills home after the City Council granted her request for a conditional use permit.
Hosterman, a state licensed apprentice falconer who is taking lessons to qualify for advanced licenses, has been nursing Ariel back to health after it was found wounded near the Oakland Airport. Now back in good condition, Ariel may be released within the next few months.
Hosterman, who had a large, elaborate cage built for the backyard of her home so as to keep the hawk close by, apparently ran afoul of the law by not obtaining a permit for the pet. She asked the Planning Commission for a conditional use permit, permits that have been given to homeowners who keep chickens, but planners and city staff had difficulty finding any definition of a hawk that met the fowl category that chickens, turkeys and even geese are in.
Then Dan Carl, a Ruby Hill homeowner who has been an outspoken political foe of Hosterman, asked the city's zoning enforcement officer to require the mayor to get a permit. After a public hearing, the Planning Commission rejected her bid, so she appealed that decision to the council.
Hosterman recused herself from the nearly two-hour discussion last Tuesday, which ranged from seeking definitions of a foul from various sources to concerns that her colleagues might give her an exemption from the rules because of her position. In the end, exhausted as the clock neared 11 p.m., council members agreed to the temporary conditional use permit while city staff researches the city's need for an ordinance that covers hawks, other birds of prey and non-conventional backyard pets that have been spotted in Pleasanton, including ostriches and screeching parrots.
Besides Carl, other political rivals also chimed in Tuesday night, including mayoral opponents Kay Ayala (2004) and Steve Brozosky (2006). Both urged the council to base their decision on Hosterman's hawk on the facts in the case, not because she's mayor.
Responding to concerns by several speakers that a hawk, as a bird of prey, might attack people or their dogs, Master Falconer Michael Pociecha said that in his 40 years of falconry, he's never heard of a hawk attack a human unless someone deliberately disturbed a nesting hawk.
"Jennifer is a very good role model for this sport, which traditionally attracts more men than women," he said. "Falconry is a highly regimented sport and regulated by state and federal laws. We take care of these birds and rescue them when they are hurt, feeding and housing them, so that we can set them free again, We need more people to get interested in this sport to do the job."
The council actually passed two measures: the first, granted Hosterman the permit she needed to keep her hawk, and the second to ask city staff to eventually update the city's regulations affecting backyard pets.