Berkeley Council Votes to Stop Feeding Squirrels

By Lisa Fernandez
|  Wednesday, Jul 2, 2014  |  Updated 10:47 AM PDT
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Berkeley squirrel lovers have reason to rejoice.

Following a city council vote on Tuesday, the squirrels - or any other wildlife for that matter - won't be put to death.

Berkeley council members enacted the prohibition of "feeding of wild animals" in city parks or other public property, with crumb-throwing violators facing a possible $1,000 fine, six months in jail or both.

It's not as if those in the city of Free Speech have an inherent death wish for the critters.

But the squirrels and gophers had been digging holes, especially in Cesar Chavez Park, endangering the clay cap that seals in the toxic substances inside the former landfill there.

Because the toxics could potentially leak into San Francisco Bay, the Bay Area Regional Water Quality Control Board told Berkeley its leaders needed to find a solution. The city had tried to get control of situation since 2009 by placing raptor perches and owl boxes around the park, but so far, nothing has worked.

“These squirrels and these pocket gophers could end up impacting the ecosystem of the Bay,” said Matthai Chakko, Berkeley city spokesman told NBC Bay Area in February.

And so, the original idea was to simply kill the squirrels. A Berkeley staff report mentioned trapping and killing the rodents, though the method that was to be used to kill the animals wasn't spelled out.

But the public wouldn't have it.

Emails, letters, calls and more flooded Berkeley city offices. After months of deliberation by a special squirrel subcommittee, city staff decided the best way to control the squirrels was to crack down on park visitors throwing peanuts and popcorn out on the sidewalk and grass.

The city will now spend $8,000 on new signs and brochures at Cesar Chavez Park informing the public that feeding squirrels is a crime.

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