Cynthia Olsen loved the idea of chickens: the thought of fresh eggs, her children learning more about where their food comes from and just living a more sustainable lifestyle.
She hadn’t grown up with chickens, but a co-worker at University Medical Center kept chickens on her land in Las Vegas and raved about it. She checked out a library book on raising her own chickens and was convinced she would do it. There was only one issue: She lived in Boulder City, and it was illegal. She could have gotten outraged and complained about how it’s her home and what right has the city to tell her what to do. But she wanted to not only have chickens, but do it legally and open up the opportunity for others to do it as well.
She began looking on backyardchickens.com and other online resources to see how others had successfully changed the laws in their towns. After doing her homework, she contacted then-Councilman Rod Woodbury. He helped her determine how she could get it onto a City Council agenda. She also met with the city planner and, through working with city officials, successfully got it onto the City Council agenda. “It took quite a bit of time. From the first time I started pushing it, it was at least a year before it got on the agenda,” she recalled.
But getting it onto the agenda was only the first step. The vote to actually make it legal to have chickens was anything but a sure thing. For one thing, former Mayor Roger Tobler recused himself because he sold chicken feed and other materials at his work, so there were only four votes left. The four seemed very unsure about which way they would go. There was concern about sound and smell. What about how many chickens and what about the permitting process?
To help the cause, Cynthia went to work.
“I would watch what was being said on Facebook and anyone who was for it. I would write and encourage them to write City Council,” she said. “I must have written over 150 Facebook messages encouraging people to get involved. I also knew there was one area that I thought may be opposed to it. In that area, I went door to door sharing benefits and facts that clarified some of the concerns. I drafted community literature and handed them out at Vons.”
In the end, over 40 people wrote the City Council in favor of legalizing chickens. There was some opposition, but it was limited. Cynthia got the law changed, and she got her chickens.
The past three years that we have had chickens in Boulder City have not been perfect in every way. No doubt, some neighbors may not like everything about their neighbor’s chickens. After all, I have chickens, and they at times get on my nerves. But overall, I love them. Most people I speak to love them, and I think they have been a benefit to our community.
I have written several articles about some of the people I think should run for mayor. My point in doing this has been to encourage good people to run. We need good people to run.
No offense to either Mayor Woodbury or Councilman Warren Harhay, but neither of them have brought as much joy to me as my chickens, and as I was recently running around the yard with the kids and chickens, I realized as badly as we need good political leaders, what we need even more desperately is … Cynthia Olsens. People who determine a way that they can make their community stronger and, rather than complain about the situation, go to work within the system to find a way to make it better.
Most of us do not have the time, money or desire to be mayor of Boulder City, but we can all in some small way be a Cynthia Olsen.
Nathaniel Kaey Gee resides in Boulder City with his wife and six kids. He is a civil engineer by day and enjoys writing any chance he gets. You can follow his work on his blog www.thegeebrothers.com.