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L.A. City Hall buzz: Backyard beekeeping should be legalized

Los Angeles lawmakers voted Wednesday in favor of making backyard beekeeping legal in the city, part of a growing urban reaction to the dwindling honeybee population.

Beekeeping isn’t allowed in residential zones under existing city codes, according to planning officials. But the practice has grown among Angelenos concerned about the survival of honeybees. Scientists warn that shrinking populations of the pollinators -- linked to pesticides, climate change and disease -- could threaten apples, almonds and a host of other important crops.

“We want to enable this increasingly popular activity even while we preserve the rights of the city to address any complaints about poorly maintained hives,” Councilman Jose Huizar said Wednesday.

The L.A. City Council voted to direct city lawyers to finalize the wording of a new ordinance and bring it back for their approval.

Los Angeles is following in the footsteps of nearby Santa Monica, which legalized backyard beekeeping four years ago, as well as the cities of San Diego, Seattle and New York City. The move was cheered by many beekeepers and urban gardeners who had championed the plan, but has stirred up concern among some residents worried about safety.

“We don’t need to put these in a residential area as a hobby,” Jack Allen, president of the Palisades Preservation Assn., told lawmakers at a committee hearing last week, arguing that the city should try to protect children with bee allergies.

Others have suggested rules requiring backyard beekeepers to complete an apiary course and show proof of insurance, mandating a minimum distance between hives and schools, and allowing neighborhoods to opt out of beekeeping entirely. Those added requirements are not part of the proposed rules.

L.A. beekeepers say legalizing and regulating their trade will help manage bees without adding to the dangers facing children or adults with allergies. City planners said in a recent report that the plan would not worsen “bee aggression,” since bees do not “have reason to sting while collecting food,” only to defend their hive if it is approached.

“If a beehive is properly managed by the owner of the bees, there’s very little risk to anybody,” Mar Vista resident William Scheding said last week.

The proposed regulations would require Angelenos who keep bees at home to register with the county and place their hives a minimum distance from the edges of their property and nearby streets. The new rules would not affect commercial beekeeping, which is already allowed in agricultural and some industrial areas.

Only one hive would be allowed for every 2,500 square feet of a keeper's property, which would enable two hives on the typical Los Angeles residential lot, according to the planning department.

Beekeepers would also have to install their hives high above the ground or erect a tall wall, hedge or fence to help usher bees at least six feet above the ground when they leave the area, “to minimize interactions between bees and individuals in the vicinity,” according to draft rules. And they would be required to provide a source of water for their bees, to discourage them from seeking out nearby swimming pools.

Establishing hives would not require permits, but the city could order beekeepers to remove their hives if violations of the regulations are found. 

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