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Santa Monica Ahead of L.A.'s New Bee-Keeping Law

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Hector Gonzalez
Special to The Lookout

September 4, 2015 -- Bee-keepers in L.A.'s neighborhoods are close to getting that city's green light to practice their hobby, but homeowners in Santa Monica have been raising bees in their backyards for years, and chickens and roosters, too.

And while a proposed ordinance allowing cat lovers to keep up to five felines in their homes is just now slinking its way through committees at Los Angeles City Hall, Santa Monica has no local limit on how many cats you can keep.

When it comes to allowing certain pets, including bees, Santa Monica has always taken a lenient attitude, according to a review of its animal laws.

In contrast to L.A., for example, where city lawmakers only this week asked their legal staff to come up with language for a new bee-keeping ordinance, Santa Monica recognized bees as good citizens years ago.

Residents have been allowed to keep up to two hives in their backyards since 2010.

Bees are “highly beneficial to society,” helping out by pollinating fruit trees and vegetable gardens, the City's bee-keeping ordinance states.  According to the ordinance, bees provide an estimated 15 to 30 percent of our food because of their habit of pollinating every sweet thing they see.

As initially proposed, L.A.'s regulations for backyard hives closely resemble Santa Monica's existing rules addressing safety issues. One regulation requires people to either install their hives 8 feet off the ground or build a tall wall or hedge to force the bees to fly at least 6 feet above the ground as they leave or enter the hive.

Local hives also have to be continually maintained, are subject to inspection by Animal Control and must be “re-queened” every two years to prevent swarming, Santa Monica's law says. Hive owners must register with animal control. Similarly, LA's proposed law requires bee-keepers to register with the county.

Santa Monica is also decidedly liberal when it comes to chickens and roosters, unlike some cities, including Whittier, Montebello and San Gabriel that ban backyard fowl. Local residents can keep as many as 13 of the birds before a permit is required. There are no rules on coup construction, and the ordinance's main restriction involves keeping rooster noise at bay.

That's not to say it's a complete jungle out there. Santa Monica has also adopted several ordinances restricting pet owners in certain situations, mostly in an effort to prevent animal cruelty and alleged exploitation.

One recent ordinance bans monkeys, snakes, exotic birds and other “wild” animals from the Pier, the Pier Ramp, Ocean Front Park, Third Street Promenade and the Transit Mall.

Effective as of April, anyone who brings a “non-domesticated and potentially vicious or dangerous” animal to any of those crowded tourist destinations is subject to a misdemeanor violation, punishable by a fine of up to $500.

Although human, not animal, welfare is at the heart of the ordinance, it was largely spurred by local merchants' and residents' complaints about a sudden saturation of monkey hawkers and parrot peddlers selling photos with their pets on the Pier and in the parks.

“You get accosted, literally,” Santa Monica Recreation and Parks Commission Chairman Brock told The Lookout News earlier this year.

“I was walking down the Pier one day during the winter, and some guy throws a parrot into the air, and it flew right into my face,” he said. (“Proposal Details Exotic Animal Ban at Santa Monica Parks,” February 23, 2015).

Last year, the City also forced pony rides out of the Santa Monica Farmer's Market, where they had been a popular attraction for 20 years. City Council members decided last September that Tawni's Ponies and Petting Farm was an inappropriate use of the space.

Although Councilman Ted Winterer said at the time of the vote he had no evidence the ponies were being mistreated, some animal rights activists objected to the operation during public hearings.

Another Santa Monica law aimed at curbing animal cruelty makes it illegal to declaw a cat, a practice the 2009 ordinance describes as inhumane and unnecessary. City Council members sided with animal rights activists who argued that declawing is painful and leaves cats defenseless when outdoors.

Local police however, said they had no choice when a mountain lion wondered down from the mountains and into the crowded courtyard of a building in Downtown Santa Monica in May 2012.

Police said they were forced to use deadly force after water hoses and pepper balls failed to contain the tranquilized animal.

“Because of the threat to public safety caused by the lion’s continuous efforts to escape, the determination was made to use deadly force,” Sgt. Richard Lewis said at the time. “The lion died at the scene.”

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