When Councilmember and amateur beekeeper Randy Pope became aware that the city doesn’t allow domestic beehives in non-agricultural areas, he suggested amending the city’s code.
“I’ve always had an interest in beekeeping,” said Pope in an interview with the Press prior to last Tuesday’s discussion. “But I never thought about having my own hive until my brother bought a bee kit and set up a hive on his property in Alameda County. After helping him set up and maintain his hive, I wanted to keep a hive of my own. I checked Oakley’s code and realized that beekeeping is considered a small farming activity and not allowed in residential areas.”
Pope began to research urban keeping, and through the Mount Diablo Beekeepers Association discovered several families in far East County that have kept hives on their property for years, unaware of Oakley’s ordinance.
Councilmember Jim Frazier questioned Pope’s motives for wanting to allow urban beekeeping, and while Pope said he would establish a hive on his property if an amendment were approved, he was also looking forward to the community benefit that comes with beekeeping.
While beekeepers are able to harvest the honey created by honeybees for their personal use, the bees play a greater role in the community, said Pope. Since bees are vital to the pollination process of flowering plants such as fruit-bearing bushes, Pope asked the council to amend the ordinance and allow local beekeepers to help maintain a healthy bee population, which would positively impact local crops.
Despite citing a recent trend known as colony collapse disorder, a term used to describe the recent disappearance of feral honeybees, which has resulted in crop failures around the world, Pope was unable to garner enough support from his fellow councilmembers to direct staff to dedicate time to amend the ordinance.
Councilmember Pat Anderson said if beekeeping were allowed in residential areas, a system would be needed to ensure beekeepers followed the rules and operated their hives in a safe manner. Beekeepers would need to obtain a license and notify neighbors of their intent to keep honeybees on their property.
Vice Mayor Carol Rios voiced concern about residential beehives’ impact on small children with severe allergies. Several residents, fearing that someone could become ill from an allergic reaction to bee stings, submitted speaker cards asking the council to leave the ordinance as it is. Pope assured Rios and the council that honeybees are docile creatures and are so focused on working in the hive that they won’t sting you unless you “squish” them.
Mayor Kevin Romick was the only councilmember to support Pope’s suggested amendment. “If you have a flower in your backyard, you’re going to have bees in your backyard. Everyone has bees. For some reason there has been a proliferation in honey bees this year, which is wonderful.”
Romick conducted a poll of the council members to see who would be in favor of asking staff to draft an amendment to the existing ordinance, but only he and Pope supported such an amendment.
City Manager Bryan Montgomery said if Pope’s statements were true and some residents are already keeping bees, the city can take a “no harm – no foul” approach and leave the beekeepers alone unless a neighbor complains. If neighbors complain, the city code enforcement officer would be called out to investigate and the beekeeper would be issued a warning.