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L.A. City Council Orders Urban Beekeeping Study

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See our California Matters with Mark Bittman segment on native pollinators here.

The Los Angeles City Council today ordered a study of legalizing backyard beekeeping in the city, a response to a growing chorus of Angelenos advocating for "urban beekeeping."

The study would look into permitting Angelenos to engage in "beekeeping" in single-family residential areas.

The council voted 15-0 in favor of the study, with Councilman Mitchell Englander declaring, "if we don't vote for it, it will be a buzzkill."

The council also approved a motion calling for the city to explore more humane ways to deal with bees, rather than extermination, and a resolution supporting federal protections for bees against pesticides.

"Bees are in real trouble, and urban beekeeping is part of the solution," Rob McFarland of HoneyLove, a group supporting bee farming in Los Angeles, told the City Council.

Urban beekeeping is legal in New York City, Denver and a few other cities, said Councilman Mike Bonin, whose predecessor Bill Rosendahl introduced the original 2012 motion to explore the legalization of beekeeping in Los Angeles.

When Rosendahl first proposed the idea, Bonin, then the 11th district's chief of staff, responded with skepticism.

"I rolled my eyes and said 'What are you getting us into now?"' he said.

Bonin said he had a change of heart after reading a story in Time magazine that said that the disappearance of honey bees, which are responsible for "a third of the food we eat," threatens the food supply.

Bees also pollinate flower gardens and beautify the city, he said.

Urban beekeeping has also been embraced by about two dozen neighborhood councils, Bonin said, including his district's Mar Vista Neighborhood Council, which was one of the earliest supporters of the practice.

Councilman Paul Koretz said the state has been losing a third of its bees a year since 2006, threatening California's avocado and almond growing industry.

"Almonds alone are $4 billion of our state's economy," he said.

Bees, it turns out, are thriving in Los Angeles, possibly because there is no large-scale agriculture and fewer pesticides in use, he said.

"It's important to protect these bees that thrive here locally," he said.

Councilman Bernard Parks, who said his constituents expressed concern about allowing beekeeping in Los Angeles, asked that the study consider a National Geographic documentary entitled "Attack of the Killer Bees," about a dangerous variety of bees that appear to be encroaching into southern United States.

He asked for the study to look at whether urban beekeeping would lead to bee attacks or endanger people who are allergic to bee stings, and asked for clarification on how the city will address commercial beekeeping activity in residential areas.

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