Ruffled Feathers

Last May, Geoffrey and Barbara Gould moved some 50 pairs of breeding macaws and miscellaneous other parrots from Scottsdale, Arizona to Point Arena. The Goulds were unaware that one of their neighbors on Windy Hollow Road was a turkey farm. Turkeys and parrots don't mix, not that they're often in immediate proximity to each other. Nicholas Turkey Breeding Farms, owners of the turkey operation, worried that Polly would eat Tom. Feathers ruffled then began to fly.

Nicholas Turkey Breeding leases its land from the Stornetta family, well-known old-timers in the area whose dairy operation is said to generate 60 million dollars a year. The Goulds and their parrots own their 15.8 Windy Hollow acres.

The turkey farm's lease with the Stornettas is up this year. The Stornettas want the turkeys to stay. Nicholas Farms hadn't intended to renew their contract to rent land from the Stornettas and had already moved much of its breeding flock to new premises in Washington state. The two prosperous entities seemed to be headed for court when the macaws conveniently arrived from Arizona. 

All summer, beginning in May, Mr. and Mrs. Gould, who also operate what they describe as an internet parrot rescue service, ferried their birds from Arizona to the 15.8-acre property they'd bought on Windy Hollow Road just outside Point Arena. They said the suburbs were closing in on their Arizona macaw farm. 

Mrs. Gould, a feisty middle-aged woman with a gift for pungent phrase-making, says that soon after she'd arrived in Point Arena, the foreman of the nearby turkey operation “roared up in his pick-up and told me, 'My boss is going to get you out of here.' ”

Welcome to Point Arena, Mr. and Mrs. Gould.

Although the Goulds and the macaws arrived in May, neither the county's Department of Planning and Building nor the Stornettas nor the turkey breeders complained about the operation until September. The Goulds insist that Planning and Building told them parrots were a permitted use of the property the Goulds had purchased to breed the birds. The Goulds' 15.8 acres, like all the acres surround them, are zoned for agriculture. The Goulds say farming parrots is farming and farming is agriculture.

To defend themselves against the combined flocks of Stornettas and turkey breeders, the Goulds hired Frank Bacik of Jared Carter's influential Ukiah law offices. Bacik soon withdrew as the Goulds' representative, vaguely claiming a “conflict of interest.” The conflict of interest was undoubtedly Bacik's sudden awareness that he'd be taking on big and powerful, Mendo branch, on behalf of small and weak, newcomer branch. The Carter law firm doesn't do small and weak, a fact of local legal life Carter, once a minor official in the Nixon administration, has managed to convert to principle.

Fearing the loss of their lucrative turkey-breeding tenants who now had a hundred parrots to deploy as a pretext for breaking their lease agreement with the Stornettas, the Stornettas began to call Planning and Building to say that the macaws were an incompatible use of the Goulds' 15.8 acres. Meanwhile, in Point Arena, a small town fueled on tourism and gossip, people began to say all kinds of wild things about the Goulds and their macaws. The kinder rumors said that the Goulds were exotic animal smugglers. Point Arena hadn't had so much fun since Stogie Stornetta hired undercover cops to kill his wife so Stogie could run away with the comely lady who ran the bowling alley. In that one, the cops failed to carry out the hit but, Mendocino County being Mendocino County, and old boys being the old boys, Stogie went home and his ten-pin paramour went to jail. She'd seduced him, you see.

The Goulds moved to Point Arena with the macaws in May, but their troubles didn't begin until September. 

“And I still don't have a copy of the complaints against us,” Mrs. Gould complains, now fully aware that she was being home-towned big time.

Dale Hawley of Planning and Building said last week that the Goulds' parrot farm was the focus of an “ongoing investigation. We need to determine the full extent of the operation.” Hawley said the Mendocino County zoning codes did not allow the raising of parrots in agricultural areas although, he mused, “ostriches are ok.” Hawley said Planning and Building has “provided the Goulds' attorney with copies of the relevant county code sections.”

The Goulds insist Planning and Building assured them before they bought their land in Point Arena that they could breed parrots on it.

“Science is on my side,” Mrs. Gould declares, “the politics around here is not.  Turkeys are inoculated against bird diseases. Have been for years. Who's sleeping with whom anyway? If this thing rocks the county, let's rock!”

Mendocino County's regulatory apparatuses have always bedded down with the big boys but how much sleep they get is an open question.

Mrs. Gould invokes Dr. West of U.C. Davis and the man in charge of California's avian and swine for the state's Department of Food and Agriculture. West says turkeys and parrots can live in close proximity so long as “rigid bio-security systems are maintained.” West says the Goulds have an impeccable reputation in their branch of the winged world but points out that he hasn't visited their Point Arena farm. The state's lead expert on bird and pig maladies said that Point Arena's turkey business could only be harmed by the Goulds' parrots if one of their birds became ill after  it had been sold and the creature's sickness was traced back to its roots with the Goulds. In that odds-against circumstance the turkey operation down the road might have the purity of its product called into question.

What is a question is why Nicholas Farms began moving breeding pairs of turkeys to a new facility in the state of Washington before the Goulds arrived in Point Arena with their macaws but now say the move to Washington only began with the Goulds' arrival.

There are presently 700 high-end turkeys at Nicholas Farms in Point Arena where some 3,500 once thrived.

But both Nicholas Farms and their landlords, the Stornettas, say the turkeys are leaving for Washington because of the Goulds and their 100 parrots.

Mrs. Gould insists that “Nicholas Farms had been advised to break up their flocks and move and that's what they were doing before we got here.”

Informal sources in Point Arena echo Mrs. Gould. “The Stornettas were threatening to sue Nicholas if they left here early,” a Point Arenan says. “The Goulds are getting blamed for a beef they didn't start.”

“I'm a farmer but suddenly I'm not a farmer,” an indignant Mrs. Gould complains. “All I want to be is a good neighbor but look what's happened?” She says one of the Stornettas came by to introduce himself, “but it was hi how are you and God bless America and welcome to the neighborhood and he was gone. His wife asked if she could bring the kids by to look at the birds when we were settled in. I said sure, and they left.”

With the national media honing in on what the wire services have since described as an amusing case of parrots versus turkeys — an intra-avian dispute — Planning and Building, local media in tow, visited the Goulds' macaw farm last Friday.

The parrots are housed in a raucous row of a dozen or so spacious cube-shaped cages crafted out of cyclone fencing. Each cage contains several birds which, we’re told, “mate for life,” making their compatibility a much more exacting task for breeders than the couplings sanctified by human institutions. The cages are clean, the birds are thriving. Geoffrey Gould says he doesn’t know how many of the parrots — mostly large, loud, brightly colored macaws, as well as Amazons, cockatoos and conures — he actually has. 

Parrots can live for 60 years or longer and are doting, conscientious parents. (Domesticated turkeys, if one wants to compare the relative merits of the two species, are the dumbest creatures in all the animal kingdom and would long ago have become extinct if they weren't good to eat.) Most of the Goulds’ birds are adult breeding pairs, although, as Barbara Gould points out, they’re not very reliable breeders in captivity and the number of chicks the Goulds have available for sale in any given year can vary widely. One gets the distinct impression that the Goulds are in the bird business for love, not money.

But the Goulds fully expect to receive an order from the Mendocino County Planning Department any day now to move the parrots far away from the Point Arena turkeys. 

Why? The turkey breeders and their landlord say the parrots threaten Thanksgiving, er, the Point Arena turkeys and they've found their own expert to bolster their opinion in another member of the UC Davis faculty, Dr. Francine Bradley, an avian specialist with the UC Cooperative Extension Service at Davis. She says “both parties should be concerned” that disease can move from one to the other with devastating effects on both flocks.

But if that’s true, why did the Goulds move their parrots in next to the turkeys in the first place? 

“We don’t think there’s any real threat either way,” said Mr. Gould last Friday. “We certainly don’t think the turkeys are a threat to our parrots. The only disease which might be a threat to either of us is newcastle, and the turkey farm vaccinates for that and so do we. In addition, it’s a treatable disease if it should occur.” 

Both operations sell wholesale chicks as their “commercial product.” The Goulds’ chicks are eventually sold to pet stores via a single wholesaler.

There have been no transmissions of disease from parrots to turkeys or vice versa in the months the two businesses have co-existed in Point Arena. Since May, the Goulds have moved the rest of their parrots to Point Arena from Scottsdale now have a hundred or so birds. The turkeys have been in transit to Washington since last winter. 

The Nicholas turkey breeders employ 10 people at their Point Arena operation over whose fates the employer is shedding the usual pro forma crocodile tears. “Ten people will lose their jobs” because of the parrots down the road. Ten people will lose their jobs because Nicholas is moving anyway.

For the purposes of legal leverage in breaking their lease with the Stornettas, Nicholas is threatening to do what they're already in the process of doing — moving their operation two states away from the parrots. Nicholas says they're going to keep on going if the County of Mendocino allows the parrots to permanently perch on Windy Hollow Road. The Stornettas, also seeking legal leverage in their fight over the severed lease with Nicholas turkeys, is also blaming the macaws for the loss of a lucrative tenant. It the parrots are forced out the neighborhood, the Stornettas will have tossed the deflated lease ball back into the turkey pen, saying, in effect, “Well, the parrots are gone now what's your excuse for relocating to the state of Washington.”

So far the Goulds have only been told that their parrot operation is “in violation” of the Mendocino zoning code. After repeated requests from the Goulds and their Arizona-based lawyers, the County has not specified which portion of the code they are in violation of. 

According to Mr. Gould, waving page after page of phone bills documenting numerous calls to Mendocino County's Department of Planning and Building, “We talked to the planning department people,” (Doug Zanini and Woody Hudson, Mr. Gould says) “many, many times and they assured us our operation was a legitimate ag operation and complied with the county zoning. Here’s the record of all the calls we placed to the Planning Department.”

Mr. Gould also says that he’s been in touch with a Dr. West at UC Davis who told him that the “threat” is much ado about nothing. Turkeys and parrots don’t present a threat to each other as long as they are vaccinated and kept apart and bacteriological control procedures are observed. In fact, according to Mr. Best, via Mr. Gould, infection is much more likely to occur to the parrots than the turkeys. (Mrs. Gould thoroughly sprayed the soles of the AVA's shoes as we entered the premises. A similarly meticulous inoculating process is required down the road at the turkey farm. 

A Planning staffer named Gail Harrie appeared at the Goulds' parrot ranch  Friday afternoon as Mendocino County's representative. She refused comment on the case, saying her only information had been derived from the Press Democrat and a quick glance at the Planning file. She had been told to simply take some pictures and look around and write a report. By all appearances, her only real purpose was to officially verify that indeed there were parrots on the property. She made no attempt to inspect the operation or the Goulds’ paperwork. Ms. Harrie's visit was the first visit to the property by official Mendocino County.

As media attention to the unique avian contretemps mounts, Planning and Building pass media liaison duties higher up the office ladder. 

Chief County Planner Alan Falleri was rolled out for the Press Democrat. According to the PD, “[Falleri] said the county’s preliminary decision is that Gould is in violation of zoning laws because parrots are not an agricultural activity and [Mrs. Gould] is operating in an agricultural zone.” Tesconi then quotes Falleri saying, “Unless she is raising parrots for meat, it is a violation of zoning regulations. There is a fine line between what is an agricultural and non-agricultural use. Generally, we consider an agricultural use to be the production of food and fiber.” 

Strictly applied, this stipulation would mean that the county’s horse breeders are “in violation” of ag zoning, as are grape growers who produce expensive intoxicants — not food or fiber. But Fetzer Vineyards isn’t likely to get a cease and desist order from Mendocino County.

Again, according to the PD, Falleri disputes the Goulds’ claim that they were told by members of the county’s planning staff that they could establish the parrot breeding operation on agricultural land in Point Arena. “The testimony of our planners is that no one told [Mrs. Gould] any such thing,” Falleri said. 

Asked if he could prove that Planning staffers had given the Goulds the green light to bring parrots to Point Arena if the dispute ever reached a courtroom, he replied, “While Mr. Basic was our attorney, he told me that if the planning department staffers were called to testify they’d probably just lie.”

Coming from a firm that lies for their handsome livings, Basic's remark wouldn't seem to meet a convincing standard of evidence.

But things don’t seem to be headed for court at this point. Falleri said a cease and desist order will be issued if Gould is found to be “in violation.” The cease and desist order will be accompanied by an “emergency order” to immediately remove the parrots. from their present home on Windy Hollow Road.

The Goulds say they’ve only had three contacts with the turkey breeders, the first in late May when a turkeykeeper rudely drove his truck right up to the first batch of parrot cages the Goulds brought in, looked around and, without a word, drove off. The Goulds say this peremptory visit indicates that the turkey man wasn’t too concerned about transmissible diseases. 

A few weeks later, the Goulds say, “a major foreman” came over and told the them, “You have to move.” The Goulds also got a FedEx letter from the turkey breeders saying that their fence had to be electrified to contain the Goulds' dogs.

“We want to be good neighbors,” Mr. Gould insists. “We don’t want to be offensive to anyone. But we’ve been tried and convicted and we’re being run out of town. If our parrots are somehow ‘in violation’ we were totally misguided by the realtors (Karen Scott of Gualala and later Paul Escher of Manchester) and the Planning Department. We can’t just up and move the parrots without a place to go. I think this could have been resolved if the turkey business had been more helpful. Some of the issues could have been resolved. We could have built a bird barn if that would have helped. Maybe they could have helped us find another location for the parrots. Maybe they could have simply bought us out. But now, we’re a stuck truck with no gas.” 

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