In a 4 to 1 vote, the council approved the appointment of Joseph Hebert to the Clovis Planning Commission, replacing Michael Cunningham whose term expires this month.

May 1, 2023 — Clovis City Council

Documented by Rachel Youdelman

What happened: The topic of backyard chickens was once again on the agenda at Monday night’s Clovis City Council meeting and despite a resident’s plea that a ban on chickens would erode “the Clovis way of life,” the council voted to deny residents the lawful ability to keep them.

Citing concerns about its impact on health, animal services staff and the need for a costly environmental impact report (EIR), the council voted 4-1 in favor of the denial with Council member Vong Mouanoutoua voting against.

According to a timeline presented during the meeting, the initial proposal for backyard chickens came before the council in May 2020, followed by two additional presentations in June and July 2020. The subject was dismissed in April 2021 due to concerns about issues experienced by the city of Bakersfield when it passed a backyard chicken ordinance and then voted to rescind it as a result of litigation and the need for an EIR.

Clovis Manager of Police Services George Rodriguez said that current municipal code allows for families of children enrolled in programs such as 4H or FFA to keep chickens.

He also shared a presentation showing that the animal response team receives about 5,000 calls annually, of which 37 pertain to chickens, and said they have limited staff to manage the calls. Additionally, he said the current animal-receiving center is inadequate for handling chickens and that the department lacks resources to address issues that may develop if residents keep chickens.

Though Mayor Lynne Ashbeck said the city had received several written comments in support of permitting chickens, few residents spoke in favor of keeping them.

Resident David Meyer, who shared ordinances for other cities such as Antioch and Anaheim, said “they make it work; why can’t we?” He said that a total ban on chickens would further erode the “Clovis way of life,” as more farms are paved over.

Angela Bates of Clovis said that chickens could be a chance for the state to generate revenue; it could be “like marijuana,” once illegal but now money-generating.

While Julie Kutka of Clovis said that she agreed with city staff and that “dogs will kill chickens.” She didn’t want to “pull a chicken out of her dog’s mouth.”

Mouanoutoua, who was not present for the whole discussion, said that “we don’t have enough information” and that he liked the idea of neighbor approval, so he would support allowing backyard chickens.

Ashbeck apologized for making flippant comments about the subject in the past and said that “at the end of the day” she was concerned that not everybody would take good care of their chickens; she pictured neighbors arguing over questions of keeping chicken coops.

“Could we ever have a city farm?” she said, noting that in Clovis there was Miss Winkles Pet Adoption Center and the Fresno Wildlife Rehabiliatation Service, but given the state of the police staffing, she would have to vote for the denial. The matter could be “revisited someday,” she said.

And also: In a 4 to 1 vote, the council approved the appointment of Joseph Hebert to the Clovis Planning Commission, replacing Michael Cunningham whose term expires this month.

Hebert is the parks and community services director for the city of Madera, a personnel commissioner for the State Center Community College District and ran for a seat on the Clovis City Council in 2022. He has lived in Clovis for more than 13 years and has a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in public administration.

Hebert has served on an affordable housing board, participated in Leadership Fresno and is a past graduate and current board member of the San Joaquin Political Academy. He’s also an active board member for Salt & Light, a nonprofit organization in Visalia dedicated to helping homeless citizens. According to his former campaign website, his vision for the future of Clovis includes safe neighborhoods, affordable homes, more jobs and second chances to those in need. 

Council member Diane Pearce was the sole vote against appointing Hebert, saying that she felt there was a “conflict” with his employment with the city of Madera and that she did not share a “philosophy” with him. She did not elaborate.

Ashbeck said she had recused herself from nominating someone to the commission because Hebert was a former candidate for council when she also ran for re-election, so she asked Council member Drew Bessinger to nominate the candidate. Bessinger said that 11 “very good” applicants, some of whom were “highly qualified,” were interviewed, and that it was “heartening” to see so many people come forward.

Mouanoutoua suggested that Bessinger should also have recused himself, but Ashbeck explained her recusal was because of an endorsement she made in the council election; she did not elaborate further.

Hebert was present at the meeting and expressed thanks to the council. Referring to a prior proclamation presented for “Older Americans Month,” he joked that he was “old,” having just turned 65, and that he hoped to bring “good judgement, discernment and doing what’s best for the city” to the job.

Up next: The Clovis City Council will meet again on May 8.

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The Fresno Documenters are a group of local residents who are trained and paid to attend and take notes at local public meetings where officials decide how to spend public money and make important decisions...