According to the County of San Diego’s most recent annual crop report, apiary products had a total production value of $2,384,588 during 2012 while the entire county’s crop value was $1,747,069,810. When supporting businesses are included, the agricultural industry is estimated to add $5.1 billion annually to the county’s economy, and the horticulture and produce farmers recognize that the pollination contribution of San Diego’s bees exceeds the crop value harvested from the hives.
The San Diego County Board of Supervisors also recognizes the value of local bees to the area’s agricultural economy, and on Oct. 9 the county supervisors voted 4-0, with Greg Cox handling California Coastal Commission duty, to direct the county’s Chief Administrative Officer to work with the San Diego Beekeeping Society and any other interested parties to investigate options which would protect and promote beekeeping operations throughout unincorporated San Diego County and to report back to the board within 120 days.
“I think the increase of the beehives is very important,” said Supervisor Bill Horn.
The options to be investigated include potential changes to the county’s setback requirements; the existing ordinance requires beekeepers to maintain their hives at least 100 feet from a public access road and at least 600 feet from any dwelling which doesn’t belong to the hive property owner.
“We have an ordinance that’s very outdated,” said Supervisor Dianne Jacob.
A change in the ordinance may allow produce or flower crop farmers who do not necessarily wish to engage in honey extraction or beeswax sales to have hives on their farmland and could also allow hives closer to produce and flowers on non-hive farms.
“We’re also helping property owners to use their property to their advantage,” Jacob said.
The San Diego Beekeeping Society approached Jacob with a request to relax the ordinance in order to promote the industry and preserve the county’s honey bee population. San Diego Beekeeping Society members spoke in favor of the motion at the Oct. 9 hearing.
“Beekeepers don’t like aggressive hives, we don’t like aggressive bees, and we know what to do about it,” said Jamul beekeeper Kim Hamilton.
“It has been shown that domestic bees help counter the Africanized bees,” said Bonita beekeeper Mike Kukuchek.
Rancho Santa Fe resident Robert Klinek spoke against a one-size-fits-all ordinance change which would reduce the setback for residential areas as well as agricultural communities. “Changing these requirements may cause danger to San Diego residents,” he said.
Klinek cited a risk of Africanized honeybees taking over a hive. “There could be a potentially fatal situation,” he said. “The existing setback requirements really create a layer of protection.”
Jacob noted that the Oct. 9 vote was to investigate options. “The action today is not changing the ordinance,” she said.
Although two of Supervisor Dave Roberts’ five children are allergic to bees, Roberts recognizes the role of bees in pollinating crops. “I understand how important beekeeping is,” he said.
Roberts has received requests from representatives of two of the incorporated cities within his district to be included in the investigation phase. “Some of the 18 cities may want to adopt this, especially some of the smaller cities,” he said.