Repeal sought of Santa Monica beekeeping ban

Between blood-sucking mites and the mysterious phenomenon known as “colony collapse disorder,” honeybees in California have been dropping like, well, flies.

That’s why Daniel Salisbury, 47, says the city of Santa Monica should halt its policy of exterminating feral bees and instead legalize beekeeping and create a bee yard that would operate as a temporary holding pen for colonies awaiting relocation to agricultural zones.

At the Santa Monica City Council meeting on Tuesday, Councilman Kevin McKeown hopes to win support for a study of whether to amend or repeal the old ordinance that prohibits beekeeping.

Nationwide, millions of hives that were home to billions of bees have died over the last four years, and this year nature’s industrious pollinators have fared even worse after a bad winter, according to an informal survey of commercial bee brokers cited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Many brokers reported trouble finding enough hives to pollinate California’s blossoming nut trees, which grow the bulk of the world’s almonds.

Researchers haven’t yet figured out what causes colonies to weaken and die off, although many suspect environmental factors. At a recent scientific conference in San Francisco, researchers reported finding traces of 121 different pesticides in beehives.

“Unless measures are taken to protect honeybees, many fruits and vegetables may disappear from the food chain,” Salisbury said in the preamble to an online petition to support repeal of the current ordinance prohibiting beekeeping.

Salisbury said that over the years, he has successfully relocated roughly 50 hives to San Luis Obispo. He kept hives for about a decade at his residence in a Santa Monica trailer park, until he got caught. “I didn’t get cited,” he said. “I just had to move the hives.”

When he found out that city policy called for exterminating swarms of feral bees, he decided to fight for the little buzzers.

“Why would you exterminate these bees when farmers in rural areas are begging for beehives?” he wondered.

According to the nonprofit Honeybee Conservancy, First Lady Michelle Obama helped propel the beekeeping movement last year when she started an organic garden at the White House, complete with two hives. Since then, amateur beekeepers have been lobbying to overturn city ordinances outlawing the activity. Beekeeping is legal in Atlanta, Chicago, Denver and San Francisco, among other cities. And New York City health department officials recently legalized the keeping of the common, nonaggressive honeybee after proponents argued that hives promoted sustainable agriculture in the city.

McKeown said he recognizes that not everyone will warm to swarms of buzzing bees on apartment decks or in backyards.

“While bees mean flowers and honey to some people, they mean stings to others,” he said. “We could end up, for instance, saying we don’t want to allow beekeeping but could allow the capture and locating temporarily at the airport.”