Christina O'Haver, The Union Democrat

Sonora residents are closer to being able to raise chickens, rabbits and other farm animals within city limits after a decision at Monday night's City Council meeting.

In a 4-1 vote, the City Council approved an amendment to the Sonora General Plan, which will revise existing language to maintain consistency with a proposed ordinance that would allow residents to keep livestock on residential properties - a practice that is currently prohibited on most residential lands.

The City Council decided to introduce the ordinance and waive its first reading, allowing it to undergo a second reading and vote at the Dec. 17 meeting.

Mayor Hank Russell did not support the amendment or the ordinance, and expressed concerns about having chickens in his own neighborhood.

"I'm just a little apprehensive about this big movement here," he said. "I'm personally opposed to it."

During the public hearing portion of the meeting, three Sonora residents voiced their opinions on the ordinance based on personal experiences.

Two spoke in support, arguing that chickens have not caused problems in the past.

Dennis Dahlin, of Sonora, said he opposed the ordinance because his neighbor used to have chickens who woke him up each morning and attracted raccoons and possums.

The livestock ordinance, which was approved by the Planning Commission on Sept. 10, specifies the number of animals that can be kept depending on a property's size.

A maximum of three small, non-hoofed animals such as chickens and rabbits could be kept on parcels of land less than a half-acre in size. The number of small, non-hoofed animals increases to six for parcels from a half-acre to 0.74 acre and nine for 0.75 to 0.99 acre.

All parcels one acre or larger could have one large, hoofed animal per acre or 12 small, non-hoofed animals per acre. The limit would be 24 small, non-hoofed animals per parcel.

The Planning Commission reviewed similar ordinances in other rural cities across California to develop the standards.

Keeping of roosters, guinea hens, peacocks and pigeons will still be prohibited.

The ordinance also outlines the standards for public health and safety, and the housing and slaughtering of animals.

Livestock must be raised outdoors in a "clean and sanitary manner," and confined within the owner's property.

Setbacks for stalls, barns, sheds, corrals and other livestock keeping structures must be a minimum of 25 feet from the property line.

Slaughtering is permitted only for non-hoofed animals and would have to be conducted indoors. Any meat produced could not be used or sold for commercial purposes. Eggs could be sold, but only from the parcel where they are produced.

The Planning Commission determined that the ordinance is exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act because it does not pose a significant threat to the environment due to its extensive limitations, according to meeting documents.

The issue of chicken-keeping was first discussed at a Planning Commission meeting in October 2011 after the city received several requests from residents.

The Sonora Police Department has received calls about livestock being kept in apartment buildings, but had difficulty taking action due to conflicting regulations in the city's municipal code.

"Let's get it all cohesive … so that we don't have interpretation problems when we're trying to enforce the codes," Community Development Director Rachelle Kellogg said.

She said city officials would not patrol for offenders of the ordinance, but would investigate situations on a complaint-driven basis.

In other business, the City Council unanimously:

Approved an annex of the Tuolumne County Multi-Jurisdictional Plan to identify natural and manmade hazards that may affect Sonora. The hazards include flooding along Sonora Creek; wildfires; and the existence of old mines and underground carbonated rock formations, both of which pose threats of sinkholes. The plan includes the City of Sonora, the County of Tuolumne, the Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk Indians and several special districts and school districts. It assesses each agency's vulnerability to natural and manmade hazards and develops strategies to reduce risks associated with them. The plan will be submitted to the State of California Emergency Management Agency Hazard Mitigation Office for initial review and the Federal Emergency Management Agency for final review.

Approved a request from the U.S. Forest Service Wildland Fire Fighter's Association to hold a fundraiser at Greenley and Sanguinetti roads on Dec. 8 for Adalee Wayne's college fund. Wayne is the 2-year-old daughter of Amy Wayne, a Sonora resident who was killed in October after being struck by a vehicle while on her morning jog.

Approved the Amended and Restated Joint Powers Agreement for the Tuolumne Public Power Agency. The purpose of the new agreement is to enhance economic development by fully utilizing the power entitlement from New Melones while protecting existing agency members.

Approved the Amended and Restated Joint Exercise of Powers Agreement for the Central Sierra Economic Development District, which provides economic development planning in the region.