Rob McFarland

A bee sits on the finger of Rob McFarland, who has kept a hive filled with 25,000 bees on the roof of his Los Angeles house for the last three years. (Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press / January 31, 2014)

The Los Angeles City Council took its first step Wednesday to explore whether beekeeping should be allowed in residential zones, asking city staff to report back on the idea.

Backyard beekeepers want Los Angeles to join New York, Santa Monica and other cities that allow residents to keep hives at home. Existing Los Angeles city codes do not allow beekeeping in residential zones, according to city planning officials.

Beekeeping has nonetheless blossomed among Angelenos worried about the health of honeybees and devoted to urban farming. In a news conference Wednesday, beekeepers urged the council to pursue the report on the topic, possibly the first step toward enshrining the practice in city code.

At the news conference, City Councilman Paul Koretz argued urban beekeeping was especially needed in the face of colony collapse disorder, which has devastated agricultural hives that pollinate avocados, almonds and other crucial crops. Councilman Mike Bonin chimed in.

“If you care about blueberries,” Bonin said, “you care about this.”

Not everyone was convinced that new rules were needed: Southern California beekeeper Dael Wilcox argued that the practice wasn’t actually illegal, just not spelled out in law, and that the city should keep it that way. Both beekeepers and city officials say complaints about managed hives are rare.

Other beekeepers countered that regulations would get rid of any “gray area” around beekeeping. “There is so much confusion and fear,” Keith Roberts, vice president of the Los Angeles County Beekeeping Assn., told The Times on Tuesday. “It’s better that the city takes an official stand.”

City Councilman Bernard C. Parks said the upcoming report should address whether permits would be needed and how any “potential health issues,” such as bee-related allergies, would be addressed. Before the meeting, beekeepers had argued managed hives would actually diminish that threat.

People are less likely to be stung by a “managed colony” than untended bees, said Rob McFarland, cofounder of the nonprofit HoneyLove. “The bees are already here," he said.

The council also voted to instruct the Bureau of Street Services, which handles calls about unwanted hives, to promote alternatives to extermination such as relocating “nuisance” hives, and threw its support behind a federal bill calling for the suspension of certain pesticides.

“If we don’t vote for it, it’ll be a buzzkill,” City Councilman Mitchell Englander joked just before the unanimous vote.

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emily.alpert@latimes.com

Twitter: @latimesemily