STOCKTON — Chicken was on the jurisprudence menu in a Stockton courtroom this week.
“Have you ever been to Kauai?” Judge Bernard Garber asked the defendant.
Kitty Ruhstaller responded questioningly.
“No,” she said. “Actually I haven’t.”
Garber continued: “Years ago, someone had the brilliant idea of importing roosters to Kauai. They didn’t have any roosters. And they have thrived there. Do you know how you can tell? Because every morning when the sun comes up it’s cock-a-doodle-doo.”
The scene was a jammed misdemeanors courtroom Thursday morning. Most were there to dispense with traffic violations. But Ruhstaller, 72, was there because she wants to keep her two hens — Jet and Aunt Tena — at home in midtown Stockton. City regulations, however, don’t allow it.
Stockton's government is working at revamping its regulations to permit a chicken in every household. The city would gladly dispense with the matter if Ruhstaller would pay a $50 fine. But Ruhstaller isn’t biting. She wants justice and is heading toward a trial in April.
But back to Kauai and the chickens.
“Yuba City is like that,” Ruhstaller testified following Garber’s Kauai travelogue. “(Chickens) run free.”
Garber seemed impressed.
“Oh, that’s nice,” he said of Yuba City, “because you can’t have a caged chicken anymore. They have to be free-range chickens and there has to be a range somewhere or they’ll be running all over the city.”
Ruhstaller, who appears headed to a seat on the Stockton Unified school board following this week’s elections, told Garber she has been providing input to city staff during the development of an ordinance governing urban agriculture.
“There’s not a lot of agriculture on Weber Avenue,” Garber noted.
Ruhstaller: “No, there’s not. But look at all the fruit trees. That’s part of urban agriculture.”
Garber had a ready response: “Fruit trees don’t go cock-a-doodle-do.”
Ruhstaller: “No, but neither do hens.”
Garber: “But they attract cock-a-doodle-dos. … Roosters are next, believe me. First they legalize marijuana, then they make heroin a misdemeanor.”
Outside the courtroom, Ruhstaller said of the judge, “He’s entertaining. I liked it.”
At City Hall, meanwhile, the city’s Economic Development Department is crafting an urban agriculture ordinance that very well may allow Ruhstaller to keep her chickens, city spokeswoman Connie Cochran said Friday.
“We recognize many people have made that request and they’re looking at including (chickens) in a proposed ordinance,” Cochran said. “We’re a few months away from doing that.”
Ruhstaller said her efforts reveal a basic truth.
“We can make changes,” she said. “We just have to go through the process. And be reasonable. I’m not saying I want to have boa constrictors in every backyard.”
Contact reporter Roger Phillips at (209) 546-8299 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @rphillipsblog.