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Our View - Wednesday

July 2, 2008

It's time to promote urban livestock

Sometimes the most progressive, fashionable and intelligent public policy is having no policy at all. Example: Chicken laws. Colorado Springs doesn't have them, and as a result our city is on the cutting edge of a great new trend.

All over the country, citizens of all political, ethnic and religious persuasions are moving in the direction of self sufficiency. It's one of the few positive byproducts of a widespread economic slump. Citizens are growing food, installing wood stoves and solar panels. They're freeing themselves from dependencies that make them nervous. Soaring electric rates make people desire less dependence on the electrical grid. Soaring gas prices make people seek less dependence on cars. And soaring egg prices move people in the direction of less dependence on supermarkets. As a result, it's all the rage to raise chickens in the backyard, which benefits the family and the planet. It means fewer trips to the store, fresher, less costly eggs, and fewer factory eggs taking long trips in refrigerated trucks. Even in large cities, residents are putting up chicken coops and paying less attention to the cost of eggs.

In their newfound freedom, urban farmers are learning that farm fresh eggs are considerably better tasting than store-bought eggs. Mother Earth News reports that free range eggs contain 33 percent less cholesterol, 25 percent less saturated fat, and have far greater nutritional value than mass-produced supermarket eggs.

But in scores of cities and towns, citizens are having to fight City Hall to change outdated laws that ban chickens from urban yards. The laws came about at a time when urban dwellers were expected to live as conformist automatons who could do little for themselves. Whether to allow chickens in yards has become a controversy in cities as diverse as Chicago, Madison, Wis., Kent, Wash., and Ann Arbor, Mich. Fort Collins recently lifted a chicken ban, and Longmont's leaders are under pressure to follow suit.

In the Springs, local government has never outlawed yard birds. At least not the female ones.

"Colorado Springs is in the odd position of being so behind on livestock legislation that it's now on the chicken-friendly forefront," says a front-page article in the July 1 Gazette.

We're like the geek who wears argyle, oblivious to fashion trends, who's suddenly a cool hipster the day some runway model brings the pattern back into style. Chickens are suddenly cool, and chickens we have in growing abundance. We are rock stars of urban planning.

But we're not the let-it-all-hang-out rock stars we could be. We are sexist rock stars. Roosters, after all, are illegal in Colorado Springs. That means it's difficult to reproduce a chicken. It seems a few late sleepers have complained in the past about the cock-a-doodle-doos roosters make in the morning. Rather than pointing complainants in the direction of Home Depot for sound board, the City Council made a law. It's time they undo it. It's also time the City Council consider lifting its ban on goats, which provide the most economical and environmentally correct method of maintaining grass and weeds. Goats convert weeds and grass to milk, another nourishing staple that is soaring in price.

It's unconscionable when cities and towns pass laws that prohibit environmental stewardship, such as ordinances that ban clotheslines for aesthetic reasons. It's especially egregious when environmentally hostile regulations restrict the home production of food.

Colorado Springs should be commended for never banning chickens. Now, the city should take deregulation a few steps further and allow all small livestock that can thrive in urban yards. Those who don't like it can learn to tolerate reasonable use of adjoining private land. Otherwise, they can move to the country, miles from the nearest chickens and pigs. Americans are re-learning how to produce their own food, which will only strengthen our culture. Local governments and neighborhood complainers need to step back and stay out of the way.


Barack Obama, welcome to Colorado Springs. As the man who stands a good chance of becoming the next president of the United States, please set your heart and mind on no other goal than great and sophisticated leadership of what's supposed to serve as the freest country on earth. You stand not only a good chance of getting elected, but you have the intellect, the personality and oratory skills to serve as one of our gifted leaders, in league with Washington, Lincoln, Kennedy and Reagan.

You promise change. So please take to heart the fact that more growth of federal services and powers would be the farthest thing from change. George Bush has spent eight years giving us big government, all intended to change and enhance the American experience.

Under the leadership of Bush, federal education spending increased by three-fifths in just his first term - to change things for children. He federalized an education system that had been localized throughout our nation's history. He created a prescription drug benefit, the first new entitlement program since Medicare - to change things for seniors. With the Department of Homeland Security, he created the largest federal bureaucracy in history - a change to make us safer. He proposed the first $2 trillion and $3 trillion budgets in history, changing our government's debt load. He seldom said "no, that's not the proper role of federal government." Bush was five years into his presidency before he vetoed a bill. He outspent any other president in history, trying to use government as a tool to change the world. The only visible move Bush made in the direction of a smaller, less intrusive government involved his nominations of strict, limitedgovernment, constructionist jurists to the federal bench.

"Government is not the solution," President Ronald Reagan said in 1981, after Americans had grown tired of a post-New Deal/Great Society big government economy in shambles.

In a 1996 State of the Union Address, President Bill Clinton agreed. He declared: "the era of big government is over."

By the time Reagan, Bush Sr., and Clinton were done, government spending had dipped to 18.4 percent of the gross domestic product - its lowest level since 1966. America thrived. During the Bush II presidency, government grew to consume 20 percent of the GDP in 2007, and the 2008 figure is certain to be higher.

Give us change, Mr. Obama, by giving us less. Don't tell states what their abortion laws should be. Don't try to give all Americans health care, a feat government can't possibly achieve without wreaking havoc. Don't increase overhead for businesses by imposing enhancements of the Family Medical Leave Act. Don't try to solve global warming by capping emissions.

Your goals are extraordinary. Nobody wants children to go without health care. Nobody wants Greenland to melt. But a president can't just give us better lives. Craft the country you envision not by force, but by leadership. Use your gift for communication, and your obvious love for this country, to urge people to greatness. Inspire and motivate, rather than promise dictates and mandates, and you may land in the White House. Anyone can dictate and impose. Only a genuine leader can inspire, motivate and lead. You could be that man. But tired old talk of government fixes won't get the job done. It didn't work for Bush II, and it won't work for you.


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