ANIMAL LIFE: Manhaattan Beach considers fate of local beekeepers, pigs, roosters

by Mark McDermott 

After a year contending with COVID-19 surges, the City Council last week was faced with reports of a potentially nettlesome but altogether different kind of surge. Of beekeeping. 

At the behest of Council, city staff launched an investigation into animal-related nuisances and specifically examined existing regulations governing bees, pigs, and chickens in residential areas. At the April 20 council meeting, staff reported that there had been a “beekeeping activity surge,” as evidenced by four animal-related nuisance complaints received since 2018 —  three relating to bees, and one regarding roosters. 

City planning manager Talyn Mirzakhanian told the council that urban beekeeping generally is on the rise due to the planet-wide disappearance of bees. 

“Over the last decade, local jurisdictions have experienced a surge in residential beekeeping activities, partially in response to evidence indicating that a number of bee species have become endangered,” Mirzakhanian said. “According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, bees are the most well-known pollinators, and pollinators assist in the plant reproduction by helping to move pollen within or between flowers, playing a crucial role in supporting biodiversity. In addition to being vital to biodiversity, pollinators support many benefits that humans received from healthy ecosystems, the most notable being food security.”

Eight species of bees have been placed on the endangered list in recent years, including one species of bumble bee which has seen a 90 percent decline in less than two decades. 

Recent studies have linked the disappearance of bees to climate change. But locally, some residents contacted councilmembers to report an uptick in the presence of bees. 

Councilperson Richard Montgomery said he and former councilperson Nancy Hersman had asked that the beekeeping issue be addressed because reports from residents.  

“It was the severity of what we saw, an increase in beekeeping…. When bees became more aggressive, I don’t know what the reason was, but we saw the volume of the increase, not the complaints,” Montgomery said. 

City regulations governing the keeping of bees are a bit nebulous. Municipal code covers small animals, and allows for residents to keep up to five small domesticated animals, including dogs, cats, rabbits, hens, fish “and the like” and specifically outlaws ducks, geese, goats, peafowl, sheep, hogs “and the like.” 

“Switching gears to chickens and pigs, based on the codes domestic animal provisions and the definitions, hens are allowed on residential properties, whereas roosters are outright prohibited,” Mirzakhanian said. “Chicken coops are treated as accessory structures and are required to comply with all applicable development standards governing accessory structures…The domestic animal provisions currently permit Vietnamese pot bellied pigs, also known as mini pigs, in the residential zoning districts, but clearly prohibited hogs and other species of pigs.”

No local law governs bees or the keeping of bees. Bee nuisances are left to the County to investigate and regulate; beekeepers must register annually with the County. Mirzakhanian said other nearby cities also leave it to the County to regulate and enforce beekeeping, while some have adopted their own regulations. 

“Others have prohibited beekeeping entirely,” she said. 

Montgomery said that the current system seems to work and made the motion to keep the regulation of beekeeping with the County. 

“We don’t know how many hives are out there in people’s yards. We have no idea yet, and that’s the only question that that bothers me,” he said.  “But short of no complaints —  one or less every year —  until the severity picks up, or the volume picks up and we can track back where it’s coming from, I’m inclined [to have] the county continue to enforce it.”

The motion passed unanimously. 

“I’ve seen swarms around our neighborhood here in the Tree Section,” Councilmember Joe Franklin said. “It is a scary thing. I can appreciate that for our residents, especially the children. I have a grandson, who I have to carry an EpiPen around with me whenever we have them here because they are so allergic to bee stings. But I think we’ve got it handled well, between the city’s actions and the County.” 

Mayor Suzanne Hadley 

“I’m glad we know what’s going on,” Mayor Suzanne Hadley said. “I did have a big hive in a manhole right outside my home about 10 years ago and didn’t know what to do and we did call the fire department and they came out, and safely removed the bees, and relocated them. It was quite exciting, with little kids back then.”  ER 

 

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Written by: Mark McDermott

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