McFarland, co-founder of the nonprofit HoneyLove,
inspects his hive box containing from
20,000-30,000 western honeybees on the roof of his
Del Rey neighborhood home, Feb. 11, 2014.
McFarland is among the backyard beekeepers pushing
for Los Angeles to hash out legal rules for
keeping hives at home.
ANGELES ó When Max Wong first "outed"
herself to her neighbors, she wondered when the police
would be knocking on her door. Until then, she had kept
her passion a secret.
Wong said most of her neighbors in the Mount Washington
neighborhood of Los Angeles were simply puzzled.
Beekeeping? Illegal? In Los Angeles?
the yummiest way of breaking the law," said Wong,
one of the backyard beekeepers who are pushing for Los
Angeles to allow apiaries in residential zones. In a
city so proud of its orange trees and urban greenery,
"beekeeping should never have been illegal,"
Los Angeles codes, beekeeping isnít allowed in
residential zones like her Mount Washington yard,
according to city planning officials. Backyard
beekeeping has nonetheless blossomed as Angelenos
worried about honeybee health or devoted to urban
farming have started tending hives at home. Now backyard
beekeepers want Los Angeles to follow in the footsteps
of New York and Santa Monica, spelling out rules to let
people keep bees in residential neighborhoods.
Los Angeles gives backyard beekeepers the stamp of
approval, "they can come out of the closet, so to
speak," said William Lewis, president of the
California State Beekeepers Association. "They wonít
need to fear that a neighbor will force them to move
City Council took its first step Wednesday toward
exploring the idea, asking staffers to draft a report.
At a news conference before the meeting, Councilman Paul
Koretz argued that 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.
you care about blueberries," Councilman Mike Bonin
added, "you care about this."
everyone was convinced that new rules were needed.
Southern California beekeeper Dael Wilcox argued that
backyard beekeeping wasnít actually illegal, just not
spelled out in law, and that the city should keep it
that way. So far, complaints about managed hives have
been so rare that the city doesnít track them in their
own category, Department of Building and Safety
spokesman Luke Zamperini said.
beekeepers countered that regulations would get rid of
any "gray area" and ensure that hives were
tended safely. Santa Monica approved such rules three
years ago, restricting backyard beekeepers to no more
than two hives and regulating how and where the hives
could be placed near property lines. New York set forth
its own rules even earlier, much to the chagrin of
locals who argue that Los Angeles should have led the
should at least keep up with New York City on things
like this, if not surpass them!" said Arroyo Seco
Neighborhood Council President Nina Zippay, whose group
backs urban beekeeping.
seems to have boomed in recent years. Lewis said that
when he started keeping bees in the Los Angeles area,
fewer than a dozen people showed up at local beekeeping
meetings. Last month the number was near 70, he said.
Rob McFarland, co-founder of the Los Angeles beekeeping
nonprofit HoneyLove, estimated that Los Angeles
beekeepers number "somewhere in the
thousands." Swelling interest in sustainability has
driven the trend.
we can protect honeybees," McFarland said, "we
can go a long way in protecting our ecosystems."
his Del Rey rooftop, McFarland pried open a hive on a
recent Tuesday to show a reporter rows of wooden frames
coated with bees, moseying over honeycomb. He estimates
as many as 30,000 bees call it home, but neighbors and
passersby would scarcely know it was there if he hadnít
told them about it. In Santa Monica, police and city
officials said backyard beekeeping hadnít caused any
idea still stirs up fears. City Council member Bernard
Parks asked city staffers to make sure the report
explains how hazards and potential health issues such as
bee allergies would be addressed. Before the meeting,
McFarland argued that beekeeping would actually diminish
those threats, because people were less likely to be
stung by a "managed colony" than by untended
bees. Koretz and other backers also said that worries
about aggressive Africanized bees, a concern raised by
some biologists and critics, were overblown because such
bees had long since interbred.
beekeepers know how to handle a hive that turns
aggressive, but "the worry is if someone just doesnít
pay attention," UCLA ecology professor Peter Nonacs
exploring backyard beekeeping, the City 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. It also threw its support
behind a federal bill calling for certain pesticides to
be suspended until they were proved not to harm bees and
we donít vote for it," Councilman Mitchell
Englander joked before the unanimous vote, "itíll
be a buzz kill."