Residents and others who visit Placentia parks and other recreation areas will be forbidden from feeding wildlife in an effort to curb the abundance of squirrels that city officials say pose a health hazard.

Placentia City Council gave final approval in April to an ordinance prohibiting feeding of wildlife on public property. The ordinance was introduced after a noticeable increase in ground squirrels and holes in athletic fields and park grounds. 

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The population of ground squirrels in Placentia athletic fields and parks has increased, and they have dug holes in the ground and chewed through electrical wires, creating a safety hazard for those who use the parks and fields, according to a city staff report. It is possible that these rodents also carry diseases that could infect humans. 

In unanimously approving the new law, the council said that items such as bird feeders could also be unintended contributors to the increase in squirrels, who eat the birdseed. 

The ordinance enables the city’s community services, public works and the police department to enforce rules that prohibit the feeding of wildlife in public areas. Signs will be posted at parks to inform the public of the new law.  

Mayor Ward L. Smith explained the extent to which ground squirrels have caused a health issue by creating holes in the ground of public areas. 

“This has been a problem in our parks,” Smith said. “[Ground squirrels] burrow, and then people are running across the field and the field is collapsing underneath them.”

Deputy City Attorney Keith Collins told City Council members before the vote that the ordinance does not apply to domestic animals.

“The proposed ordinance should clarify that it does not affect other provisions of the code relating to domestic animals, like chickens and rabbits,” Collins said.

The ordinance was also revised from its original draft to apply to the feeding of wild animals on public property, as well as private property, if the feeding results in a nuisance. Examples of this would include the feeding on private property bringing pests to the area, Mayor Pro Tem Jeremy Yamaguchi explained.

Specific amendments made in regards to feeding wildlife on private property were derived from council members’ worries regarding bird feeders, and their effect on land depending on how high they are placed off of the ground. 

Karen Crocker, the Placentia community services director, said in a presentation at a March council meeting that the ordinance contained a section specifically involving the feeding of birds because the bird feed can attract rodents.

“It’s really to protect resident neighbors, regarding any negative types of bird feeding,” Crocker said. “If somebody wants to put a bird feeder on the ground, and it’s causing rodents to come, especially if we have condominiums and close proximity with neighbors. That section is in there so that code enforcement and the city can act on it.”

Yamaguchi used the example of his daughter to explain why he thinks bird feeders should be allowed on private property.

“I completely agree with the spirit of the ordinance.” Yamaguchi said. “[But] If the problem is really in the public parks and public areas, we could just concentrate on that versus having my daughter getting a citation for throwing peanuts at the squirrels.”

Councilmember Rhonda Shader expressed her support for the ordinance by bringing up the experience of her own neighborhood. 

“The only thing that I’m personally worried about is if you have a neighbor that likes to feed the birds on the ground, which does happen in my neighborhood. If it was to become some sort of nuisance, then what recourse would you have? This is to allow that recourse, if you need it,” Shader said. 

However, Councilmember Kevin Kirwin said that bird seed will attract animals no matter the height of the feeder. 

“Regardless of how it happens, birds themselves don’t have very good manners, they knock it [feed] all over the ground anyways. If you have a birdfeeder anywhere, you’re going to have birdseed on the ground, and other things are gonna come to get it,” Kirwin said. “Squirrels are gonna get the birdseed.”

The ordinance eliminated restrictions on bird feeders, unless they create a public nuisance, per the request of City Council. The law will go into effect in early May.

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