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More home-grown businesses expected under Oakland ordinance

Oakland residents would be able to sell their garden crops with a permit obtained through a routine application for a home-based business under a new ordinance that the City Council is expected to approve Tuesday evening.

“With this simple but important change, Oakland residents will now be able to start their own locally-grown food micro-enterprises,” said Esperanza Pallana, owner of the home-based Pluck & Feather Farm and co-founder of the East Bay Urban Agriculture Alliance.

The measure, already approved in June by Oakland's Planning Commission and on a first reading by the City Council, would amend rules that pertain to home-based businesses, adding the cultivation of "fruits, vegetables, plants, flowers, herbs, and/or ornamental plants" to the list.

Approval would be automatic as long as the applicant lives at the property and uses no mechanized equipment. The home permit and business license together would run about $50, said Eric Angstadt, Oakland's deputy director of planning and zoning.

Prior to this change, permits for home-based businesses were only allowed for indoor activities, which ruled out most crop raising. Residents who grew crops with the intent to sell them were instead required to obtain a conditional-use permit -- a more elaborate process that involves a hearing and can cost more than $2,800.

Local urban farming advocates call the change an important step that will help Oakland meet its policy goals of reducing carbon emissions from food transport and increasing residents’ access to healthy fresh produce. They say that neighborhoods with community gardens and farms also see reduced crime and more civic involvement.

The move is part of a larger effort by Oakland city planners to revamp zoning rules pertaining to urban farming that will come to a vote next year.

The broader changes to zoning regulations, which are still being crafted, will address whether vacant land can be used for either small-scale market gardens or larger farming operations, any restrictions on when residentially-grown crops can be sold, and regulations pertaining to pesticide use. Also on the table is the issue of food animals raised for personal consumption -- which has been far more contentious than the selling of salad greens or potatoes.

Animal rights advocates have opposed the raising of backyard animals for slaughter, saying the practice raises questions about sanitation and vermin and can lead to inhumane conditions. They particularly oppose slaughter of rabbits, which are also popular as pets. Home-based agriculture proponents counter that their animals are raised in far more humane conditions than factory-raised meat.

Angstadt called Tuesday's expected change "a very easy fix."

"This was a noncontroversial thing that probably gets at 60% or 70% of the requests we get," he said. "If you're living in an owned or rented unit you will be able to legally sell produce that you grow on the lot."

In April, San Francisco became the first city in the state to take on the urban farming issue, and now allows the growing and selling of produce on less than an acre citywide with a relatively low-cost permit. Larger operations are permitted in designated non-residential zones, as are sales of value-added products like jam.

But San Francisco steered clear of the animal issue. The planning code caps the number of animals residents can keep but is silent on whether residents can boil their aging laying hens, cook their rabbits or milk their goats for their own sustenance. (The sale of meat and dairy products is regulated by county, state and federal rules).

Berkeley is expected to vote this fall on proposed urban farming rule changes that would allow for the home production and sale of all raw agricultural products — eggs and raw honey in addition to plants — with a simple permit at a reduced or waived cost. It also would require testing to ensure the soil is free of harmful chemicals.

As in San Francisco, that city is also steering clear of the more controversial animal factor as it already has some limited rules on the books, including an ordinance from the early part of the last century about where residents can walk their leashed goats.

The Bay Area cities are the first in California to take on the issue, but they follow others nationwide, including Seattle, Detroit and Kansas City, Mo.

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--Lee Romney in Oakland

 
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L.A. Now is the Los Angeles Times’ breaking news section for Southern California. It is produced by more than 80 reporters and editors in The Times’ Metro section, reporting from the paper’s downtown Los Angeles headquarters as well as bureaus in Costa Mesa, Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Riverside, Ventura and West Los Angeles.
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