Open Letter to the Oakland Planning Commission

Posted by Kitty Sharkey , Wednesday, September 17, 2014 4:19 PM

Dear Commissioner

I would like to express my support for the updated proposal to amend the city’s Agricultural regulations that will be discussed during your meeting this evening, September 17th.  For the most part, I agree with this proposed plan and the revised definitions of Community Gardens under 17.10.140 Essential service civic activities along with the newly designated definitions 17.10.610 Limited agricultural activities and 17.10.615 Extensive agricultural activities.  I would like the changes recommended by the Oakland Food Policy Council to be adopted into the proposal before it goes to the Community Economic Development Committee of the City Council for their consideration on October 14th.

As an urban homesteader, I have been living in Oakland and raising my own food for 7 or 8 years.  Here at Havenscourt Homestead, my small plot of land in East Oakland, I am able to produce approximately 65% of my own produce and 95% of my own eggs, dairy, and meat products.  I do this for my own personal consumption only, and do not currently participate in any sales of agricultural products.  I do have a home occupation permit that allows me to sell the products of my garden, but I have yet to make use of this option.  I tend to share any excess produce with my neighbors.  I practice urban farming openly and am quite proud of my achievements.  My homestead has been featured on the Urban Farm Tour organized by the Institute of Urban Homesteading.  It has been featured twice on the Bay Friendly Garden Tourorganized by StopWaste.org.  And it was featured in the book Backyard Roots by local photographer Lori Eanes.  One of my goats, Sammy, is even a movie star.  He appears in the independent film I Believe in Unicorns that is currently winning awards at film festivals around the globe.

I have had visits from Animal Control and Vector Control, both of which gave me an A+ for my homesteading activities.  My animals are in excellent condition and well cared for.  My composting, manure management, and vector control processes keep everyone (animals and neighbors alike) happy and healthy.  I do not have a problem with excessive flies, unpleasant odors, excessive noise, rats, or mice.  I also don’t have any issues with the local urban wildlife as I have taken appropriate measures to insure they are not attracted to my homestead.  My neighbors support my lifestyle and the neighborhood kids always love it when I take a goat or two for a walk around the block.  I have set up a small parklet on the parking strip in front of my house that includes seating, fruit trees, and a Free Little Library.  My activities have contributed to my neighborhood community in numerous positive ways.  To my knowledge, my urban agricultural activities have had no negative affects upon my neighbors or the neighborhood. 

Several people from the Oakland Planning Department, including Heather Klein, visited my homestead several years ago.  After that visit, I was invited to participate on the Planning Departments  Technical Advisory Group on Urban Agricultural.  Unfortunately, after the first draft was circulated a couple of years ago it appeared that the Planning Department must have decided to disband the TAG as I received no more notifications of meetings or further drafts.  I was very surprised to receive notification that the updated proposal was going to be presented and voted upon by the Planning Commission this evening.  Interested parties on all sides of this issue were given approximately 30 hours in which to review the 305 page document and all the attachments including the revised definitions noted in sections 17.10.140, 17.10.610 and 17.10.615.  I do not believe this to be adequate advance notification in order to allow citizens with an vested interest in urban agriculture to circulate, review, discuss, and come to conclusions (pro or con) to this updated proposal.  I can only hope that the Planning Commission was given a copy of the proposal in a more timely manner.

As a resident of Oakland, I believe it is my right to raise my own food on my own property whether that be fruit, vegetables, eggs, milk, or meat as long as I abide by the existing laws concerning animal control, vector control, noise, etc.  This updated proposal will permit these activities outright in most areas of the city without the burden of unnecessary, time consuming, and expensive Conditional Use Permits or Home Occupation Permits.  If adopted, it will bring Oakland into compliance with current state law regarding home food production and sale.  Finally, adoption of this proposal will be a huge step forward in insuring the availability of wholesome and nutritious food throughout our community regardless of socio-economic status.

I strongly encourage you to support and pass this updated proposal as well as the minor edits recommended by the Oakland Food Policy Council.

Sincerely,

Kitty Sharkey
 

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