OAKLEY -- The city's mayor was ready to give his colleagues a hive five recently after council members indicated support for allowing beekeepers to pursue their hobby in residential areas.
Mayor Randy Pope had suggested two years ago that the city relax its rules governing the practice, which currently is allowed only in areas zoned for agricultural use. Although most of the council rejected his proposal, two members since have stepped down, and Councilwoman Carol Rios said at a meeting last month she'd be willing to allow residents to keep hives in their backyards as long as they don't use the bees for commercial purposes.
After the council meeting, Pope said he was "cautiously optimistic" that his colleagues would follow through with an ordinance that actually supports beekeeping instead of attaching conditions so difficult to meet that it would be virtually impossible for apiarists to maintain hives at home. Council members are expected to consider a draft ordinance at their June 10 meeting.
Antioch and Brentwood both prohibit beehives in residential areas. In Pittsburg, people can keep up to two as long as they're not for commercial purposes and are located specific distances from homes and property lines.
Intrigued by the hobby, Pope took up beekeeping three years ago and currently manages about a dozen hives in both Contra Costa and Alameda counties.
Aside from the taste treats he harvests -- Pope estimates his bees produced 10 pounds of honey last year -- the practice benefits the environment, he said, noting that the number of honeybee colonies in the United States has plummeted inexplicably in recent years.
"The bees are having a real hard time, so I was trying to help out with that," Pope said.
Much of the council's discussion focused on the fears and fictions surrounding bee behavior.
"I have a backyard constantly full of bees, and I've never been stung," said Councilman Kevin Romick, who rattled off a list of the different species he's observed. "If you have a flower on your property, you're gonna have a bee." People often mistakenly believe that bees have the same aggressive tendencies as wasps, Romick said, and Vice Mayor Doug Hardcastle echoed the sentiments.
"If you don't mess with them, they won't mess with you," he said, noting that the only time he was stung as a child was the time he accidentally sat on a bee.
Nonetheless, council members agreed that, to be prudent, the ordinance should include the stipulation that hives must be at least 100 feet from places where young children congregate such as schools and licensed day care businesses.
The proposed rules also would set a limit of two hives per single-family residence and require beekeepers to place them either at least 25 feet from the property lines, at least 8 feet above the ground, or erect a 6-foot barrier that would force the bees to fly upward as they leave the property.
Amateur apiarists also must ensure that their hives don't become overcrowded, which prompts the queen and her worker bees to leave en masse in search of a new home.
In addition, they must provide a water source for their bees so the insects don't cluster around neighbors' faucets and swimming pools.
The City Council acknowledged that enforcement should be complaint-driven because there aren't enough city personnel to monitor properties that have hives on them.
The city has been tabulating the number of calls it's received about bees since Pope first floated his proposal in June 2012, and to date there have been six complaints concerning hives. Only one of those involved man-made hives -- 50 of them -- that the property owner was managing in an area where bees aren't allowed.
Contact Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141. Follow her at Twitter.com/RowenaCoetsee.