Well, it’s official. Beekeeping is absolutely illegal for me. Since my rant about the 600 ft stand-off law in the County of San Diego, I’ve fired off a series of letters to everyone from entomologists to County Supervisors. Yes ladies and gentlemen, this thing goes all the way to the top. As of last week I think my correspondence has come to a close. It ended with a few letters from a fellow at the El Cajon City Planning Office, just 2 miles from my house. The result, beekeeping is not a permitted use of residential land. Here is a brief summary.
My first letter was actually to a local beekeeping society. I noticed they have an online petition for legalizing bees in San Diego. Their goal is to get one million signatures to sway the city council; at present they have 430. I wrote to the president of the group and offered my services. I just thought any cause could use a writer or a scientist. The fellow responded (one line email) that I could help by signing the online petition. So I did, but I didn’t notice any immediate effects, nor was I overcome by a warm feeling of helpfulness. I wrote back to the guy, explaining who I was and that I wanted to help. He responded with another one line email: “What can you do to help?” Gosh, I was really hoping he could tell me. That was the end of that.
The next stop was to search around for “beekeeping” and “San Diego”. I arrived at the County Entomology Lab at the Department of Agriculture, Weights, and Measures. I wrote in that I want to keep bees, was trying to understand the laws and the common sense of it. I had already read the laws, but I was hoping for an ally. Maybe someone who would say, “yeah, that 600 feet rule is a little excessive, let me know if you need help changing that”.
That, I did not find. The woman there graciously thanked me for writing her and very politely explained the rules of beekeeping to me. She also referred me to the county bee expert, who I declined to contact. In short, I didn’t get much useful ammunition. I decided it was time to kick things upstairs.
My next letter was to my County Supervisor, Diane Jacob. I asked her why San Diego County requires a 600 foot standoff for apiaries, when some much denser cities such as New York and San Francisco only require 25 feet. Ms. Jacob responded to me in a week or two. She (twice) thanked me for writing her, and (thankfully) did not explain the rules of beekeeping to me. Instead she referred my question to the Chief Administrative Officer of San Diego County. I know, I was impressed too.
It was nearly two weeks before I heard anything more. Then I received a letter from the Agricultural Commissioner. The Agricultural Commissioner thanked me for my inquiry and defended the 600 foot rule. She asserts that the 600 foot rule is supported by scientific studies, and that it is necessary in arid environments to provide enough forage and water for a colony of bees. She goes on to say that 75% of unmanaged hives in San Diego are Africanized and that they receive over 1000 complaints of bee disturbances each year.
As I have previously stated, I believe estimates of Africanization are grossly overstated, given that I rarely hear of anyone being killed by bees in San Diego. However, I will defer to the expertise of the Agricultural Department, who works on this everyday, and concede that there may be more AHBs than I thought. Of more interest though, if you glanced at the letter, is that fact that the 600 foot rule only applies in the unincorporated areas of SD County. There was the glimmer of hope I was looking for. The Commissioner referred me to the El Cajon Development Planning Office, where I could get El Cajon specific information about beekeeping.
I made a quick scan of the El Cajon Municipal Code and I did not find any mention of bees. I emailed the Planning Office and received an almost immediate reply from a fellow there, thanking me for my interest and stating, “The City of El Cajon Zoning Code does not list beekeeping as a permitted use in any residential zone.” Indeed, I had already seen that for myself. I thought my search was over, but then I examined the wording again. The code does not list beekeeping as permitted…It also doesn’t list beekeeping as forbidden! Was this guy trying to game me?
Apparently there are two core philosophies of law; 1) the law can list all permitted things and everything else is forbidden, or 2) the opposite. The planning officer’s statement seems to take the first interpretation. Being a scientist and an arguably creative person, I’m inclined to adopt the second. I would like to think I might come up with a use for my land that has not been thought of. Would this genius and unprecedented use be illegal then, according to the City of El Cajon?
I emailed the planning officer again, specifically asking for clarification on the phrase “is not listed.” Again the response was thankful and immediate:
“Zoning codes do not list all unpermitted uses. It is impossible to do so. The direction cities typically take is to list the permitted ones. If a proposed land use is not specifically listed in the El Cajon Zoning Code, the use is not permitted.”
So there you have it my friends. Beekeeping is illegal in El Cajon. These are wild animals that fly about at will, pollinate all our gardens and fruit trees, and make their homes in tree stumps and attics. For the Love of Pete’s Sake, don’t try to house these animals, care for them, or enter into any sort of mutually beneficial relationship. If you must do something with them, please just kill them; they’re obviously a nuisance (I’m looking for the sarcasm font here as I type).
I will say at least I am pleased with not only the ease at which I’ve been able to communicate with our city officials, but the fact that they responded to me at all. Actually, by the way they all thanked me, it must be pretty swell to receive one of my letters.
In conclusion, I have decided not to keep bees at my house, not even illegally. Someday perhaps I will live in a more reasonable place, or perhaps this place will itself become more reasonable. In the meantime I am looking for a home for my hive. My friend Cari Johnson, at White Mountains Ranch, has agreed to house it at her farm. I still have to build it, and we still have to work out the honey sharing deal, but I should be able to work some bees and get some honey some time in the next few years. I’ll keep you posted.