LOCAL L.A. Now

Beekeepers urge L.A. council to allow backyard hives

Backyard beekeepers are urging the city to allow Angelenos to keep hives at home, joining the ranks of cities such as New York and Santa Monica that already permit the practice in residential areas.

The Los Angeles City Council is slated to vote Wednesday on whether to ask city officials to draw up a report on allowing beekeeping in residential zones, a possible first step toward permitting backyard beekeeping.

Under Los Angeles city codes, beekeeping isn’t allowed in residential zones, according to city planning officials. Backyard beekeeping has nonetheless blossomed as Angelenos committed to locavore living or worried about the health of honeybees have started tending hives at home.

“It’s the yummiest way of breaking the law,” said Max Wong, who keeps bees in her backyard in Mount Washington. Her neighbors were stunned when she told them it wasn't allowed there under city code, she said.

“Beekeeping should never have been illegal,” Wong said. The image of urban greenery is "part of what makes Los Angeles, Los Angeles," she said.

So far, both beekeepers and city officials say few complaints have been lodged about illegal beekeeping in Los Angeles neighborhoods. Such complaints are so rare, said Department of Building and Safety spokesman Luke Zamperini, that the department doesn’t track them in their own category.

Beekeepers argue that new rules would nonetheless wipe out the legal unease they now face in the city, clearing up exactly what is allowed.

“Regulations would bring Los Angeles up to speed with pretty much all the other major metropolitan areas around the country,” said Rob McFarland, co-founder of the Los Angeles beekeeping nonprofit HoneyLove. In addition, “it would give beekeepers the guidelines to help make it as safe as possible.”

More than a dozen neighborhood councils, including those in Van Nuys, Eagle Rock, Hollywood and Palms, have backed at least exploring the idea. Some supporters invoke the threat of colony collapse disorder, which has devastated commercial hives that pollinate billions of dollars in crops globally.

Allowing backyard beekeeping "sends the message that we're progressive," said Nina Zippay, president of the Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council, which voted unanimously to support residential beekeeping. "We should at least keep up with New York City on things like this -- if not surpass them."

Closer to home, Santa Monica enshrined such rules three years ago, restricting backyard beekeepers to no more than two hives and regulating how and where hives could be placed near property lines.

Four beekeeping locations are now registered in the coastal city, according to Santa Monica police; a fifth was voluntarily shut down after a nearby school complained about dead bees on the ground. No children had been stung, said Santa Monica Police Sgt. Mike Graham, supervisor of its animal control unit.

Since the rules were created, “we haven’t been hearing about any problems,” said Dean Kubani, sustainability manager for the city of Santa Monica. As long as beekeepers manage their hives, neighbors shouldn’t be affected, he said.

On Wednesday, the City Council also will  weigh whether to tell its Bureau of Street Services, which handles calls about unwanted hives, to promote alternatives to extermination such as relocating "nuisance" hives.

It also will consider whether to throw its support behind a federal bill calling to suspend the registration of certain pesticides until they are shown to not cause “unreasonable adverse effects” on bees and other pollinators.

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Twitter: @latimesemily

Emily.Alpert@latimes.com

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