The Coast News Group
A small farm at Ocean Knoll Elementary. The council will explore options to encourage urban agriculture. Photo by Jared Whitlock

Encinitas considers ways to grow urban agriculture

Council takes interest in easing backyard chicken rules

ENCINITAS — The council plowed the way for new agriculture initiatives on Wednesday night.

For one, council members agreed to take a closer look down the line at an urban agriculture ordinance, similar to what the city of San Diego approved two years ago. That legislation loosened restrictions on chickens, goats and bees in residents’ backyards.

“I thought San Diego did a very good job with theirs,” Kranz said, adding he’d like to see if that city’s ordinance fits Encinitas.

For instance, before San Diego’s ordinance, chickens were only allowed if kept farther than 50 feet from surrounding homes.

Now, up to five chickens are permitted if the coop is outside a house’s setback. For those with 15 to 25 chickens, the coop has to be at least 15 feet from the property line.

Businesses like City Farmers Nursery have stated the new rules provided a shot in the arm to agriculture and the local food supply.

Currently, Encinitas’ city code specifies up to 10 chickens are allowed in residential areas, though they can’t be within 35 feet of neighboring homes.

Kranz said the city should consider easing the distance, but emphasized a local ordinance wouldn’t apply to roosters.

Wednesday’s meeting, part of a series of strategic planning sessions, was dedicated to all things land use. Still, council members spent a significant part of the evening discussing agriculture.

Mayor Teresa Barth asked for the city staff to analyze the state’s Urban Agriculture Zones Act and report back to council.

The law gives landowners a property tax break on the condition they dedicate three-acre lots or smaller to growing agriculture for at least five years. The goal: transform barren lots into vibrant farming hubs.

Passed last year, cities must opt in to the program for it to take effect.

Landowners who lease to a farmer would benefit from a reduced property tax assessment based on the per acre value of irrigated cropland in California. This was $12,000 per acre in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

However, the law does have restrictions. Notably, homes aren’t permitted on properties looking for a tax reduction.

In a presentation to the city, Eric Larson, executive director of the San Diego County Farm Bureau, said urban agriculture is taking off.

“It’s really catching hold and becoming more popular in urban settings, especially as communities like Encinitas reach build-out,” Larson said. “People want to see some greenery around them and have a chance to get their hands dirty.”

Encinitas is poised for urban agriculture in many ways, Larson said, citing the city’s climate and locals’ passion for growing food.

But he added there are barriers. Starting a commercial farm typically requires a minor-use permit and other fees, which run approximately $1,000. And additional permitting is necessary for farms that lie idle for more than 100 days.

The council also agreed to hold city meetings with farmers to better understand issues facing the industry.

Councilwoman Kristin Gaspar said many growers have left the area in recent years. Feedback from the meetings would help inform future agriculture policies and potentially retain farmers, she added.