Santa Monica Legalizes Beekeeping

Last night the Santa Monica city council voted to amend their municipal code to allow beekeeping on single family properties. Now, legalizing beekeeping is a bit like legalizing sunshine. Bees, after all, do their thing whether or not the government permits it or not. For every beekeeper in an urban area there must be hundreds of feral bee colonies living in walls, roofs and compost bins. Nevertheless, Santa Monica took a big step forward, joining cities around the world such as New York, Denver, Paris and London who have aligned their codes with the laws of nature.

Santa Monica’s amended code establishes a few rules:

  • Beekeepers are limited to two hives.
  • Hives must be registered with the City Animal Control Office.
  • Hives must be five feet from a property line.
  • Hives must have a six foot screen around them or be at least eight feet up (screening forces their flight pattern upwards).
  • Hives must be given enough space so they don’t swarm.
  • Hives must be requeened each year.
  • A water source must be kept nearby.
  • In addition, Santa Monica Animal Control officers were given new clarifications on their search powers when conducting investigations.

All of these requirements make sense to me except requeening and the arbitrary five foot distance (you have to screen them anyways so you’ve already got a six foot fence next to the hive box). And I can’t imagine how requeening, a practice I don’t agree with, will be enforced.  I also hope that the Santa Monica Animal Control officers have the proper level of law enforcement training needed with their new search powers. And it’s unfortunate that you still can’t keep bees on multifamily properties (assuming every tenant signed off on the idea).

Quibbles aside, the Santa Monica City Council did the right thing. Now, what other cities will jump on the common sense bandwagon?

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8 Comments

  1. Would you mind talking about your feelings about requeening, or linking us to something that describes the issues with it? I’m a new beekeeper but it’s hard to get all the info I need to be a good beekeeper. Thanks in advance, and congrats Santa Monica for legalizing sunshine!!

  2. Jess:

    We assume that Santa Monica requires requeening because they believe it will minimize the possibility of swarming.

    We are Backwards Beekeepers–see that blog (google the name) or read the new Idiots (not Dummies!) Guide to Beekeeping, which describes the philosophy.

    Traditional beekeepers buy artificially inseminated queens for the purpose of controlling genetics. They don’t want virgin queens out there consorting willy nilly with drones of “unknown quality.” (bad boys?)

    In standard beekeeping practice they switch out the queens every year with an eye toward maximizing the production, since a new queen can lay more eggs which = more workers which = more honey.

    This is conventional wisdom. We don’t abide by it. We keep feral bees and allow them to live as nature dictates. If the queen is weak, the hive will make a new one to take her place. She mates with whichever drones can catch her. If the hive screws up–makes weak queens or whatever–the hive fails, and we pick up a wild swarm and start over. No biggie. No expense. If we get a little less honey because of this, well…we enjoy other advantages. We don’t have to deal with mites, and best of all we don’t have to chase queen bees around with a tiny paintbrush.

    The only reason we might consider requeening (and believe us, we’re not eager to stick our hand in the hive and root out the queen) is if for some reason the queen starts breeding super aggressive workers (which can happen). In such a case the hive as a whole could be saved by switching genetics– ie, once all the old queen’s progeny have died, the newborn bees would all be store bought fancy bees from Italy or whatever. But I don’t know…we like our feral pit bull bees. They’re born and bred in LA, you know? They’re bred to thrive here. It would take a lot for us to consider it.

  3. I am encouraged with a side dish of concern. Search powers, eh? Those two words, for some reason, make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up; too broad.

  4. I am not living in Santa Monica but I can see that this is a gain.

    I don’t think I was aware for Paris. Anyways, in cities that have a high population density it could be beneficial to encourage people to make the space greener responsibly.

  5. nixed. i was wondering about getting a small hive for our condo patio, but i guess not (yet). but at least this is progress.

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