Cautious optimism is the label I’ve attached to City Councilor Carmichael Dominguez’ ambitious nudge toward comprehensive master planning in regard to quality-of-life improvements on the south side. Some amount of legitimate heroism may likewise be attributed to Dominguez for recognizing that a modest property tax increase will better benefit the city than a tea party-style fear of all things related to taxation.
But if the city’s Public Works/CIP and Land Use Committee hasn’t, by the time this article publishes, put an end to Dominguez’ ill-advised push to heavily regulate beekeeping in the city limits, it’s going to be fisticuffs (at least metaphorically) between the councilor and myself.
Individual beekeeping is a quiet, noble enterprise that produces myriad environmental benefits, including pollination and combatting the worrisome colony collapse disorder (which has potentially disabling consequences on large-scale crop and livestock production). Beekeeping also offers the byproducts of honey and pollen. Keeping bees is as much a tradition as keeping chickens or tending home gardens, and city government has no more business butting into beekeeping than it does into chickens or gardening.
Yet Dominguez has seen fit to propose that beekeepers be subjected to such strenuous registration, regulation and impossible hurdles that his ordinance would effectively outlaw beekeeping in Santa Fe.
For starters, Dominguez proposes that any hive must be located at least 75 feet from a property line. So 90 percent of Santa Feans are out of luck from the get-go, given the size of urban property lots. If someone can find a location that is a full 75 feet from all property lines, it would likely fall in the middle of his or her house. Of course, there is nothing wrong with keeping bees on the roof, but bees prefer a little wind protection, and I doubt the intention of the ordinance is to have more people frequently climbing onto city rooftops.
There is an exception to the 75-foot rule, which is to situate bees behind a “flyaway barrier.” According the proposed ordinance: “A flyaway barrier shall be at least six (6) feet in height, consisting of a solid wall, fence, dense vegetation or combination thereof that is parallel to the property line and extends twenty-five (25) feet beyond the colony in each direction so that all bees are forced to fly at an elevation of at least six (6) feet above ground level over the property lines in the vicinity of the apiary.”
These parameters are nearly as restrictive, for all practical purposes, as the 75-foot rule, and potentially impose an added financial barrier to the already expensive practice of beekeeping. Furthermore, the language in this ordinance sounds a lot like language lifted from some other city’s anti-bee ordinance, and likely one constructed without the benefit of anyone who knows anything about bees.
It’s true that bees follow behavior patterns that are not always predictable or easily understood by humans, and we’re consequently disturbed by bees suddenly becoming angry or defensive and stinging. It also is true that some people can suffer life-threatening anaphylactic shock as the result of bee stings. What Dominguez’ heavy-handed legislative solution to a non-existent problem fails to consider is the level of education required to become a successful beekeeper. Anyone who actually learns enough about bees to keep them properly is going to be responsible about the care and placement of their hives, and considerate of their neighbors. You’re just not going to keep bees if the kids next door are allergic to stings. Santa Fe’s tight-knit community of beekeepers is a de facto continuing education system in which knowledge and safe, respectable best practices are openly shared. If there is merit to considering any regulation of beekeeping, perhaps a one-time proof of training-course completion would be reasonable.
But Dominguez—in addition to the physical property restrictions detailed above—wants beekeepers to secure annual inspections from the New Mexico Department of Agriculture before registering each apiary with the City of Santa Fe Land Use Department—again annually. I wonder what the Department of Agriculture thinks about this new burden with which a Santa Fe city councilor intends to saddle it. Or does Dominguez know that he’s just creating one more roadblock because what he proposes is utterly infeasible in practice?
Remember, councilor, when bees are outlawed, only outlaws will have honey.
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