Chicken controversy is a semantics mix-up, owner says

CORONA DEL MAR — As Michael Resk moves around his Spanish-style home, small bobbing heads mirror his actions, following him to the front gate, backyard and alley.

The chickens make it clear that he rules the roost.

When he walks around his Goldenrod Avenue yard, he's occasionally followed by the six members of his feathered flock — nicknamed the Goldenrod 6 — as they cluck, peck at the grass and dig holes in search of bugs.

Resk has owned the chickens for 16 months, but he ran afoul of city ordinances that prohibit owning poultry in Corona del Mar. But it's all a mix-up of semantics, Resk says, because his birds aren't for meat or eggs; they're largely ornamental.

His chickens — Red, Blackie, Flaty, Tiny, Blondie and Whitey — are the manifestation of an idea he had while sitting in his yard thinking they would be a nice decorative addition. But after a neighbor complained to the city, Resk was given two weeks to remove the birds. That was one and a half weeks ago.

Newport Beach's law, enacted in 1970, prohibits owning any animal commonly considered livestock within city limits, with a few exceptions in permitted areas.

Resk said he is prepared to pay some fines.

Though for some residents, Resk and the Goldenrod 6 have become a local fixture for neighbors on a run, nannies and their children, and passersby. Many enjoy visiting "the Ladies."

Susan Jent, a nanny who was watching over young girls Matea and Madalyn on Wednesday afternoon, said they often come by to see the birds.

"We always walk past here and look for the roosters and the chickens," Jent said, as the girls stood along the fence greeting the chickens. "It's the highlight of the walk."

Lorenza Robbins said her 4-year-old autistic daughter, Summer, visits the chickens daily, feeds them and dances with them during her routine visit.

For Summer, whose condition makes communication difficult, one of her first words was "chicken," her mother said.

"[She] just lights up when she sees the chickens," Robbins said. "She loves them. For some reason, she connects with them."

Resk doesn't own roosters, although a few of the birds are burlier than others.

He is one of many Orange County residents flocking to the practice of raising chickens, according to Margaret Millspaugh, owner of Wagon Train Feed & Tack in Orange. She's also known to many as the "Chicken Lady of Orange County."

Millspaugh said last year she sold about 25 chickens weekly, but recently her business has been booming with 40 chicken sales per week. She said her clients come from across the county.

She said she knows many cities have relaxed their ordinances and permit the pets, while some chicken owners may slip under the radar.

"A lot [more] people get away with owning chickens than we know about," Millspaugh said, adding that chickens like to live in even numbers. "I try to do even numbers — no odd man out."

Huntington Beach allows six chickens per resident or 24 chicks younger than 8 weeks, provided they stay 25 feet from other buildings. As of 2009, Irvine allows four chickens as long as they remain 30 feet from any home with certain zoning restrictions.

Laguna Beach also allows residents to own chickens, provided that they don't run at large and are housed in a sanitary coop.

Resk said since bringing his ladies home, he hasn't seen a snail, termite or spider — but he also hasn't seen much of his tomato plants recently. He had to replace his corn and broccoli with citrus plants, which are less tasty to his flock.

Resk said he thinks he's dealing with an outdated law, and believes his Goldenrod 6 contribute some color to the community.

"I think this is just an old law," he said, adding, "I think it adds a lot more than it detracts."

Twitter: @lawilliams30

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