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Let It Bee: City Council OKs Beekeeping in SM

The council voted unanimously to allow backyard beekeeping on single-family residential properties.

Beekeepers are hive-fiving after the Santa Monica  voted unanimously Tuesday night to allow backyard beekeeping on single-family residential properties.

A maximum of two hives is now allowed on private properties, so long as the beekeeper registers with the city's Animal Control Office and meets beehive-placement requirements, and the bees don't become a nuisance to neighbors on adjacent properties. People must set their hives five feet off property lines, and there must be a six-foot barrier off the property line. Animal-control officers will be permitted to enter properties at reasonable times to enforce the ordinance.

The council agreed to amend Municipal Code Section 4.04.130, which previously prohibited beekeeping in Santa Monica. According to the staff report, the move was a response to an April 27 recommendation that the City's Task Force on the Environment evaluate or repeal the code section over growing concern about the population of bees declining in California.

Dean Kubani, director of the Office of Sustainability and the Environment, spoke before the council Tuesday night. After City Councilman Bob Holbrook said he was "wondering why 100 years of common sense [might be] tossed out," Kubani indicated that other cities that have had similar ordinances in place—including San Francisco; Portland, Oregon; and New York—now allow safe backyard beekeeping. Kubani said the OSE has spoken with other city staffs, and that they have not reported "significant health or nuisance problems."

Daniel Salisbury, who is with the pro-bee group Backwards Beekeepers and spoke with Santa Monica Patch earlier Tuesday, also addressed the council. He said he had introduced the idea of ending the prohibition on beekeeping in Santa Monica, and noted that the practice had been legal in the city in the 1940s.

"My main concern is the survival of the bees," he said, adding that "feral [wild] bees are being exterminated on a huge scale." According to the staff report, environmental stresses and disease have led to the death or severe weakening of half of California's domestic honeybee population over the past 50 years.

While Salisbury approves of private beekeeping, he warned, "You have to have some policing of it. Letting everybody have beehives might be a problem if you don't have educated people in animal control who can police this stuff."

When City Councilman Bobby Shriver expressed concern that prospective beekeepers only need to pay a fee in order to obtain a license, Salisbury agreed that there should be training or a program in place.  suggested that a Web site be created to provide additional information on safe beekeeping.  agreed and also proposed that literature be given to prospective beekeepers when they register with animal control. She also expressed concern about bees being killed on private property.

As for public property, Kubani reiterated that extermination is only used as a last resort. Santa Monica has a contract with Bee Professionals, a bee-removal contractor, which sets up a barricade around a hive if one is found on public property. If the bees haven't dispersed 24 hours later, a removal contractor is tasked to collect the bees and "relocate them to an apiary in the San Fernando Valley or Ventura County," according to the staff report. The colony is exterminated only if that cannot be achieved.

The council agreed, at the suggestion of Shriver and City Manager Rod Gould, to check back in two years to "make sure [beekeeping is] not producing fights between neighbors," Shriver said. "It could be worse than the hedges," he cracked, referencing the notorious battle over outsize hedges on his property (a dispute that initially lured him into politics).

(For more coverage of Tuesday night's City Council meeting, go to this story about the official beginning of the debate over Santa Monica Airport, this story about the Council's virtual stroll through Palisades Garden Walk, and about the council's approval of the $34 million sale of Pacific Park.)

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