County considers altering beekeeper zoning regulations

SAN DIEGO (CNS) – The San Diego County Board of Supervisors unanimously agreed Wednesday to spend $50,000 to for an environmental study of proposed changes to zoning regulations for beekeepers.

The county requires 600-foot setbacks between beekeeping operations and neighboring homes, but county staffers and beekeepers have been working to ease zoning regulations.

“Over the past year, the biggest challenge has been trying to find that balance between promoting beekeeping while maintaining the public’s health and safety,” board Chairwoman Dianne Jacob said. “Today, I believe we’re as close to a consensus as we’ve ever been.”

Ten properties in unincorporated areas of the county have been identified as appropriate for the activity.

Supervisors have said they favor a tiered approach that would apply different zoning regulations to hobbyists, small commercial operations and large commercial establishments. Each tier would require setbacks away from roadways, neighboring homes, property lines and “sensitive sites,” such as those inhabited or frequented by people with limited mobility, the elderly and small children.

Entomologist Tracy Ellis said some crops grown in San Diego County, including avocados, berries and citrus fruits, require commercial beekeepers’ bees to pollinate them. The proposed ordinance would “allow hobbyists and commercial beekeepers more flexibility, and likely benefit gardeners with increased backyard fruit and vegetable production,” she said.

“This is a big part of agriculture,” Supervisor Bill Horn said. “With no bees we have no crops.”

Supporters of the plan say that areas once suitable for beekeeping no longer work because of the region’s growth. Also, those who work with European honey bees have been hurt by Colony Collapse Disorder and the arrival of Africanized honey bees.

The presence of Africanized honey bees has created the need for longer setbacks to adjoining properties. Experts believe that the more aggressive bees require a 150-foot defensible perimeter. The defensive zone for the European honey bees is around 25 feet.

“We believe this ordinance will actually move us into a much safer position with regard to the Africanized bees,” Kim Hamilton of the San Diego Beekeeping Society said.

Staffers will conduct the environmental study and return to the supervisors with an ordinance for approval in about a year.

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