Honey, I’m home – council OK’s beekeeping

Two-car garage? Sonoma residents can now aspire to a two-hive backyard.

The city council has decided to allow the keeping of bees within city limits. A typical single-family home may now maintain two beehives, and up to four hives will be allowed on larger parcels.

The unanimous decision answers a public buzz to encourage the growth of the dwindling bee population, which will in turn lead to more wild flowers, gardens and citrus.

The placement of hives will be subject to screening, spacing, orientation and setback requirements to ensure compatibility with neighbors.

As with the keeping of poultry and rabbits, a license, probably issued by the police department, will be required. Applicants will pay a fee (to be set by the council) and “self-certify” that they will abide by all rules and regulations. The other option, having police or city staff examine the backyard prior to approval, is unlikely, according to City Planner David Goodison.

Once the license or permit is issued, neighbors with complaints about nearby hives would have little recourse. “If the (beekeepers) are in compliance with the license, that ultimately gives them protection,” said Goodison.

Having the offending apiary declared a public nuisance could override the protection of a valid license, but proving that case is extremely difficult. “It’s a pretty high bar,” Goodison said.

Most amateur beekeepers are well educated on the subject, predicted beekeeper Randy Collins, and home hives will be established slowly and safely. “There won’t be a big rush of beekeepers“ she said. “Keeping bees is not an easy thing to do and it’s not a cheap endeavor.”

The council must next decide how much the fee will be. The permit fee to keep chickens is $10 but, as it costs much more in staff hours to issue one, is essentially subsidized by the city’s general fund.

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