By Joe Naiman
Village News Correspondent 

Tiered beekeeping ordinance meets objectives


Last updated 1/23/2019 at 5:55pm

When the San Diego County Board of Supervisors approved a tiered beekeeping ordinance in 2015, the county supervisors directed county staff to return to the board in 2018 with a status report on whether staff had any recommendations for improvements or additional funding after the program had been in effect for two years.

The two-year status report did not become a board of supervisors action item, as county staff and stakeholders saw no need for changes and the board of supervisors saw no need to hold another hearing.

“They decided to continue the program,” county entomologist Tracy Ellis said. “I think they were happy with all the outreach.”

Before the county supervisors’ September 2015 approval of the first reading and introduction and October 2015 second reading and adoption of the tiered beekeeping ordinance hives were required to be at least 100 feet from a public access road and at least 600 feet from any dwelling which didn’t belong to the property owner.

The San Diego Beekeeping Society approached Supervisor Dianne Jacob with a request to relax the ordinance in order to promote the industry and preserve the county’s honey bee population. In addition to allowing non-commercial beekeeping on smaller lots, the setback reduction also allows produce or flower crop farmers who do not necessarily wish to engage in honey extraction or beeswax sales to have hives on their farmland for pollination purposes and also allows hives closer to produce and flowers on non-hive farms.

In October 2013, the board of supervisors directed the county’s chief administrative officer to work with the San Diego Beekeeping Society and any other interested parties to investigate options which would protect and promote beekeeping operations throughout unincorporated San Diego County. The stakeholders included community planning groups, registered beekeepers, pest control operators and the San Diego County Farm Bureau as well as the San Diego Beekeeping Society.

In May 2014, the board of supervisors voted to give county staff direction to focus on a tiered ordinance and to work with stakeholders. In June 2014, the Department of Agriculture, Weights and Measures was provided information about regulations for other jurisdictions, and the county supervisors voted to direct county staff to return to the board with multiple draft tiered ordinances for consideration.

In August 2014, AWM began a community outreach effort with presentations to community planning and sponsor groups. In October 2014, the county supervisors selected a preferred tiered ordinance for the purpose of the environmental review process. An environmental Mitigated Negative Declaration was released for public review in April 2015 and was certified as part of the supervisors’ September 2015 action.

The new ordinance created three tiers. The first tier is intended for hobbyists and has a limit of two hives, although the practice of splitting hives prevents swarming and up to five hives are allowed on a 30-day temporary basis. The first tier requires distances of at least 25 feet from the property line and from roadways, 35 feet from any neighboring dwelling and 150 feet from sensitive sites such as schools, hospitals, child day care and elder care centers, parks, playgrounds, stables and kennels.

A property of approximately 6,000 square feet could have beekeeping if property configuration allows for the distance requirements to be met. The second tier is intended for small commercial beekeeping operations and has a limit of 20 hives. The minimum setback distances are 50 feet from roadways or property lines and 100 feet from neighboring dwellings.

Properties with three to 10 hives have a setback requirement of 150 feet for sensitive sites while the sensitive site setback for operations with 11 to 20 hives on the site is 300 feet. A suitable property configuration allows parcels as small as 1 acre to have such operations.

If a first-tier or second-tier apiary is in a residential area and within 300 feet of a neighboring dwelling, a six-foot vertical flyover barrier is required.

The third tier which accommodates large commercial beekeeping operations does not limit the number of hives, but any hive must be at least 50 feet from a roadway, 350 feet away from a neighboring dwelling and 400 feet away from sensitive sites.

The distance requirements may be waived if the hive borders open space or if the neighbors provide written permission for the hives to be closer than the minimum distances. Residents or site workers with a documented allergy to bee stings may request that their property be designated as a sensitive site.

The number of colonies and the location of each apiary must be registered with AWM on an annual basis; there is no fee for the registration. The annual registration process includes the completion and submission of a best management practices checklist, and the beekeeper must implement those best management practices. The ordinance includes water supply, fire break and fire suppression equipment requirements and regulates bee smokers and transportation of bee colonies.

Each colony must be inspected at least once a month by the beekeeper to determine the potential presence of objectional honey bee behavior or apiary pests. AWM inspectors may enter the property, although if advance notice will not interfere with the purpose of the inspection the beekeeper will have that prior notification. The bee housing structure must have movable frames so that an inspector can have full access to the inner bee living quarters.

“It set up a tiered regulatory program,” Ellis said. “The idea was to have a program that supported the changes in the distances by having regulations that support safe beekeeping.”

Registration of a hive does not involve additional requirements for the owner but gives the beekeeper access to pesticide and quarantine notices along with bee health and other outreach information.

“We limit the exposure of bees to pesticides,” Ellis said.

Registration also provides verification for insurance purposes in the event of hive loss.

“One of the things that we wanted to do with this program is increase the number of beekeepers who were registered,” Ellis said.

During the two-year evaluation period AWM partnered with the University of California Cooperative Extension. The activities included developing and distributing more than 7,000 handouts and postcards in English and Spanish for both adults and children to enhance public awareness of the bee hotline at (800) 200-2337, which can be used to report concerns, developing an online course with instructional videos to explain the best management practices and ordinance requirements, 50 outreach events to beekeepers and the public and three workshops for beginning beekeepers with hands-on demonstrations by experts.

AWM partnered with the San Diego Beekeeping Society and commercial beekeepers to promote registration, re-queening, which is a defense against Africanized honey bees who do not travel to cold-weather areas from which the new queens are shipped, and other compliance elements.

“We educate them on keeping water for the bees, keeping food for the bees, keeping them in locations that are safe,” Ellis said. “The public needs to know also that if bees are bothering them we do advertise our bee hotline number. We want people to call them in.”

The online best management practices course is free, and during the two-year period 56 registered beekeepers took the course to comply with the requirement while another 76 people took the course for informational purposes.

AWM approved eight requests for homes or workplaces to be designated as sensitive sites, which affected nine beekeepers. The sensitive site designation may be renewed every three years.

As of 2015 the county had 101 registered beekeepers with 271 apiary locations and 16,836 hives. The number of registered beekeepers increased to 160 in 2016 when the county had 408 apiary locations and 21,603 hives. In 2017 the statistics were 239 registered beekeepers, 622 apiary locations and 29,986 hives.

“We did a lot of outreach,” Ellis said. “It’s a record for us to have 140 more beekeepers registered.”

The outreach efforts and beekeepers’ better familiarity along with acceptance of the program also increased compliance for initial inspections. Compliance rates in 2016 were 59 percent for one or two hives, 63 percent for three to 20 hives and 82 percent for more than 20 hives. The 2017 compliance rates were 83 percent for one or two hives, 73 percent for three to 20 hives and 88 percent for 21 or more hives.

“We got an improvement in compliance,” Ellis said.

During the two-year period AWM received 36 complaints including 17 related to stings and aggressive bee behavior. The other complaints involved bees seeking water and excessive swarming. Registered apiaries only accounted for 11 of the total complaints. Callers to the bee hotline are asked if they see a hive and can determine where the bees are based, and in some cases a feral hive can be identified.

The report’s recommendations for improvement called for continued public outreach to safeguard public health and safety while ensuring managed bee hives are maintained in a responsible manner, continuing to focus program resources on compliance monitoring and outreach activities to increase beekeepers' awareness of responsible beekeeping and increase the number of trained and registered beekeepers, providing information on queen bee suppliers, discouraging the practice of starting colonies with feral Africanized honey bee swarms and employing the use of administrative warnings, citations and nuisance abatement against beekeepers with repeat offenses.

“We had good compliance with people,” Ellis said. “It’s all in line with proper beekeeping.”


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