Wednesday, November 25, 2015 • 02:19

Planning Group discusses options for beekeeping

Beekeepers in Valley Center may now have tighter restrictions when it comes to managing their hives.
August 20, 2014
The Aug. 11 Valley Center Community Planning Group meeting began with Tracy Ellis of the County Department of Agriculture Weights and Measures who provided an update on options to promote and protect beekeeping operations in San Diego County.

Ellis proposed developing a beekeeping ordinance for managing European honey bees kept for domestic pollination and honey production.

"We live in a honey bee area where the wild bees are Africanized," said Ellis. "The European honey bee zone is 25 feet in defensive area and the Africanized honey bee zone is 150 feet."

Since the 1960s, the county has had a commercial beekeeping ordinance. In 2012, the city adopted an urban agricultural bill that allowed a 15-foot setback from property lines.

Due to opposition to the options set forth in May, the Board of Supervisors asked the Department of Agriculture to work with the San Diego Beekeeping Society to develop a new proposal to protect and promote beekeeping in the county while maintaining public safety. The county requested adopting a tier system similar to the equine ordinance, but for bees.

Beekeepers are required to have their bees surrounded by a six-foot solid wall, which would direct the bees upward and away from paths. In addition, beekeepers are required to take an online course when they register. Registration of bees is a state law.

An important practice for best management is making certain that the queen in the hive is a European honeybee, not an Africanized strain.

"If you don't check your hive regularly, this can downgrade rather quickly," said Ellis. "If people used those practices of beekeeping, they would have a safe bee area which would involve checking hives monthly."

Other important areas to consider are sensitive sites including day care and elder care facilities, schools, playgrounds, hospitals, outdoor sports facilities, and kennels.

The ordinance for setback distances proposed in Tier C for commercial beekeepers is a distance of 100 feet from a roadway, 300 feet from a dwelling, and 450 feet from a sensitive site.

Tier B includes having more than two hives on larger lots with a setback distance of 50 feet from the road, the distance from a property line to be 50 feet, and the distance from a dwelling other than a beekeeper's is 100 feet. Tier B allows a larger number of hives (up to 20) because there is a larger space.

Tier A is for the urban beekeeper similar to what the city's limits are for the number of hives (from two up to five) for 30 days during splitting or for controlling swarming. The setback distances for Tier A is similar to the city's, which is 25 feet from the road, 25 feet from the property line, and 35 feet from a dwelling other than the beekeeper's.

"This ordinance will not work unless beekeepers practice best management." Ellis said. "With this ordinance proposal, we'll need to create levels of enforcement and abatement."

Providing water is one of the most important best management practices. According to Ellis, when bees want water they become a serious nuisance to their neighbors. A plan is proposed for those not following best management practices. Their hive would be considered a nuisance, which would entail follow up with the county nuisance abatement practices. Nuisance is defined as bees acting territorial to people thereby lowering the quality of life in someone's yard.

Each hive contains 40,000 to 60,000 bees.

A challenge exists in outreaching to get bee owners to register so they can be contacted about the Africanized bee situation. The San Diego Beekeeping Society has 200 to 800 members who have hives in San Diego, but estimate there are many more beekeepers who are not members of their group. Only 70 beekeepers are registered with the county.

If code enforcement for abatement of hives becomes a policy, then enforcement abilities would be required to abate hives that are a risk to public safety, which would cost the county more money due to more labor intensive measures.

Chair Oliver Smith expressed concern about code enforcement of the county.

"The only thing they go after is if someone complains specifically, then the county is limited in their ability to go out and exercise code review in the generation of complaints," Smith said. "The county has a history. If they don't have money for it, they don't allocate money for it and it doesn't expand. The county isn't forward moving in wanting to put together funds. My concern is there is a code enforcement in place, but you can't really use it."

Other items on the agenda included a presentation by engineer Gary Wynn involving a major use permit for Valley Center Cemetery District (VCCD) located at 28953 Miller Road and Little Creek Lane. VCCD proposes expanding the existing cemetery started in 1850.

According to Wynn, VCCD first met with the county three years ago. More recently, the project was submitted to the county 60 days ago without yet having received a response. The county expects the project to be refined in a year as VCCD goes through the use permit process. Due to funding, this is considered a long-term plan expected to take five to 10 years.

"The cemetery is running out of plots, so it's looking for other sites to expand the existing cemetery," said Wynn. "This is not a complicated project. It requires adding on to the existing cemetery."

On June 25, 2013 the property owner to the north granted an additional one acre net area to provide for the expansion. The expansion area will be utilized as an additional interment area.

A Planning Group member pointed out that parking is an issue at the cemetery and inquired if a plan exists for the clustered parking along the edge of the existing easterly area and asked if there would be parking opportunities available elsewhere on the property.

As recommended by the Planning Group, Wynn agreed to return for a future meeting after receiving the required scoping letter from the county.

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