LOS ANGELES (AP) — For the past three years, Rob McFarland has kept a beehive filled with 25,000 bees on the roof of his house smack in the middle of West Los Angeles.
The bees occupy some prime real estate — they even have a view of the Hollywood sign — but for now, they are illegal squatters in the trendy neighborhood of bars and eateries near Santa Monica.
On Wednesday, the City Council voted on whether to begin the process of granting bees like McFarland's legal status in LA's residential areas after a lengthy lobbying effort from bee lovers of all stripes.
"LA has an ideal climate and a ton for bees to forage on and is emerging as a real epicenter of urban beekeeping, but ironically, it's not legal here," said McFarland, who formed a group called HoneyLove.org to advocate for backyard beekeeping.
The vote comes against the backdrop of colony collapse disorder, a worrisome die-off of honeybees that has captured the attention of environmentalists and farmers worldwide.
The push, however, has alarmed some, who fear such an ordinance could bring more residents into direct contact with the Africanized, or "killer bees," that are already thriving in walls, trees, electrical boxes and compost bins.
At the heart of the debate are a new breed of urban beekeepers who rescue those wild bees from extermination and relocate them to backyards — and almost all of these hives have some "killer bee" genes mixed in.
Critics of the practice fear a blanket legalization of backyard bees would allow these self-styled "ethical bee removal specialists" to expand their efforts with dangerous consequences.
"To just haul them (feral bees) out of the fences and stick them in the backyard, that's not a good idea," said Eric Mussen, a bee expert at the University of California, Davis.