South L.A. Backyards Are Becoming Barnyards

Jessica Garrison, Los Angeles Times, May 25, 2008

When her neighbor’s roosters and chickens persisted in running through her yard, G. Stone took matters into her own hands.

She marched next door and issued a warning: Do something about the uninvited guests or the birds “were going in my pot.”

The incursions stopped. But Stone, a retired Los Angeles County librarian who lives northwest of Watts, shook her head in exasperation as she recalled the incident.

“I’ve lived here for 50 years,” she said. “All of a sudden, there’s an influx of chickens. You’re not supposed to have chickens in the city.”

For many, the image of South Los Angeles is that of a paved, parched, densely packed urban grid. But increasingly, it is also a place where untold numbers of barnyard animals—chickens, roosters, goats, geese, ducks, pigs and even the odd pony—are being tended in tiny backyard spaces.

“Most people don’t realize just how many farm animals there are in the city,” said Ed Boks, the general manager of the city’s Animal Services department.

Indeed, about a block from the beauty parlor where Stone was getting her hair done earlier this month, a pair of goats chewed something dark and unidentifiable as they stood placidly near the traffic whizzing by on Avalon Boulevard. A pit bull next door eyed them lazily.

The cacophony of cock-a-doodle-doos south of the 10 Freeway is one of the louder manifestations of a demographic change that has transformed South Los Angeles in the last few decades.

Once primarily an African American community—and still the cultural and political heart of the state’s African American population—the area has absorbed tens of thousands of immigrants from Mexico and Central America and is now predominantly Latino. In Southeast L.A., the black population has dropped from 71% in 1980 to 24% in the 2000 census; the Latino population grew from 27% in 1980 to 74% in 2000.

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But a few blocks away, Jose Luiz, 43, seemed surprised that anyone would be bothered by the noise.

“It’s natural to have roosters,” he said as he surveyed a new community garden where corn, squash and tomatoes were growing. “I’m Mexican. We are accustomed to hearing them.”

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In South Los Angeles, on the other hand, the crowing—and bleating, quacking, honking, oinking and neighing—has been a growing source of irritation, with callers lighting up city phone lines demanding that officials do something.

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