Update 10/15/15: As expected, the Los Angeles City Council has voted unanimously to overturn the 136-year-old ban on backyard beekeeping within city limits. The beekeeping ordinance, which will now be signed by Mayor Eric Garcetti, comes equipped with a variety of restrictions (detailed below) that would limit the activity to the backyards of single-family homes. "To bee or not to bee, that is the question. But there is no question. We must have bees," said Councilman Paul Koretz.

Welcome to the urban beekeeping big leagues, L.A.

Los Angeles, a city where amateur beekeeping is technically verboten but where honey-collecting hobbyists have been tending to hives for years, may soon finally usher in the era of legit backyard beekeeping thanks to a just-approved drafted city ordinance that’s well on its way to becoming law. Once language within the ordinance is finalized by city attorneys, the urban beekeeping ordinance will again be voted on by members of the Los Angeles City Council.

Neighboring cities such as Santa Monica and Redondo Beach along with San Diego have all legalized backyard beekeeping in recent years. In fact, the honey-producing hobby is permitted in Los Angeles County itself. However, apiarian activities have long remained relegated to a particularly bothersome grey area within L.A. city limits. Outside of Southern California, other major cities across the globe including New York, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Sacramento, Denver, London, Vancouver, Paris, Chicago, Toronto, Atlanta and Minneapolis have all moved to legalize urban beekeeping.

The fact that Los Angeles is absent from this list has long, well, stung amateur beekeepers and those who support urban beekeeping initiatives geared to help boost declining urban bee populations. Maintaining a healthy population of prolific pollinators is particularly crucial in California, an agricultural powerhouse that’s been hit hard by historic drought.

Of course, the drafted ordinance isn’t without restrictions.

As reported by the Los Angeles Times, non-commercial urban beekeeping activities would be strictly confined to the backyards of single-family homes — one hive per 2,500 square feet of residential property would be the limit. The Times notes that this maximum would allow most homeowners to install two or more hives if they please. (Beginner beekeepers, of course, should start off modestly).

Around the hives, beekeepers would be required to respect established buffer zones meant to keep the insects at a remove from streets or neighboring properties. Hobbyists would also need to erect walls or hedges to help contain their swarms as to “minimize interactions between bees and individuals in the vicinity.” Additionally, they must provide a hydration station so that the bees don’t go wandering off into neighboring yards in search of swimming pool-sourced water.

Angelenos who wish to keep bees in their backyard must register with the city to do so although obtaining an official permit is not required.

Despite the to-be-expected restrictions, champions of backyard beekeeping in Los Angeles are welcoming news of the ordinance with open arms. Supporters hope that bestowing urban beekeeping with clear legal status will encourage those previously hesitant to partake to go for it. The more the merrier as the bees — and California's economy — need it.

“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, who serves as chair of Planning and Land Use Management Committee.

However, Angelenos should proceed with caution as beekeeping in the city is serious business. Like with backyard chickening, interested parties should do their research and perform reconnaissance work before making any serious investments. While a hobby that’s nothing but beneficial, it’s also a hobby that takes care and dedicated commitment.

As previously noted by Sami Grover here on MNN, too many amateur urban beekeeping operations can potentially do more harm than good. Those who are on the fence — i.e. homstead-y millennials keen on the romanticized notion of keeping hives at their Silver Lake spread but who are, in reality, mighty skittish around swarming, stinging insects — should perhaps consider contributing to the well-being of bees in other ways, such as gardening with pollinator-friendly plants and supporting bee conservation efforts. That is to say, there are numerous ways to help these vital creatures without actually keeping honeybees in one’s backyard.

Of course, there’s plenty of fear and resistance to legalized beekeeping in Los Angeles, two factors that have kept practicing urban apiarists on the DL for years now. But as signaled by the city council, concern for the livelihood of urban bees and their direct impact on state agriculture outweighs NIMBYist fretting over domestic disturbances of the apiarian variety.

Writes KPCC of some of the local concern raised over the ordinance:

Granting beekeeping rights to all in the city has some people worried about safety. The Studio City Neighborhood Council opposed the ordinance, because it did not include amendments designed to promote safety. They wanted aspiring beekeepers to be required to take courses and have insurance in case of injurious stings. They also wanted a registry of expert beekeepers to be created and maintained in case of swarms that necessitate removal.

One of the most vocal opponents of the beekeeping ordinance has been police chief-turned-mayoral candidate-turned-longtime Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard Parks. Described as the “perennial fly in the council’s ointment” by LA Weekly, Parks, who stepped down from his council position earlier this year due to term limits, cited concerns over public safety as the reason for his opposition. In doing so, he specifically referenced the rise of Africanized/hybridized “killer” bees in Southern California, not European honeybees, which are type of bee kept in backyard hives.

Argued Parks: “Why would you bring that dangerous scenario to someone’s backyard? There are health issues. There are danger issues. It shouldn’t be in a residential neighborhood. There are too many instances where innocent bystanders can be the victim.”

Unlike some of their more ill-tempered relatives, European honeybees are largely docile and will not attack/sting in self-defense unless defending their hive.

Parks was also the only council member to vote in opposition of L.A.’s historic plastic bag ban in 2012.

And in other Los Angeles animal-keeping news that’s sure to be welcomed by aspiring cat ladies, the city council will soon vote on another measure that would permit residents to keep a total of five cats, a “modest” increase from the current legal limit of three felines per household. Like with the beekeeping ordinance, the kitty proposal would be limited to single-family residences and not apply to multi-unit buildings.

Angelenos: how do you feel about the likely-to-be-passed ordinance?

Via [LA Times]

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Angelenos abuzz over possibility of legalized backyard beekeeping
Concern over dwindling pollinator populations trumps worries of apiarian disturbances.