By Michael Gaffney

Did anyone know bees were so controversial in Worcester? We all know they have been dying out for some reason, but in my three years on Council and the thousands of people I’ve spoken to, I’ve never heard someone call out “we must do something about these rampant bees!” I am aware that people have allergies to bee stings that can cause death, but that argument for the regulation of bees has never been presented. Nor does the regulation address the issue. In fact, unless bees are eliminated completely, the regulation of beekeepers will have little effect on honey bees or bee stings in general. No one has come before Council and said, “We must regulate to protect our citizens.”

Yet here we are, City Council is reviewing regulations from the Manager’s office on the regulation of bees.

Every time think of this issue, I’m tortured with the lyrics from an old Dweezil Zappa song:

Talking ’bout what everybody’s talking ’bout

Let’s talk about, let’s talk about it

Scream and shout what everybody’s talking ’bout

Let’s talk about, let’s talk about it

And you thought you’d make it through life without every hearing about Dweezil Zappa again! But, yet I torture you to make a point. No one was talking about the regulation of bees. Those little pests that pollinate flowers. And here we are, talking about it. As a disclosure, I’ve purposely planted flowers that would attract honey bees.

Apparently, these docile honey bees (not wasps, yellow jackets, or hornets) have been roaming the City of Worcester, unregulated, unmonitored, and unchecked for far too long.

The lowlights of the proposed regulation:

  1. We will cap the number of colonies based on lot size. Not location of the lot, just size. Which makes plenty of sense if you don’t think about it too much.
  2. The beekeeper would need to install some sort of wall to make sure the bees fly over, as opposed to through, neighboring property. We will build a wall and the bees will pay for it! Seriously, this is just a little bit of awesome. Build a wall so the bees don’t jump out of the bushes.
  3. In residential-zoned areas, hives can only be in side or back yards, not the front. Which makes as much sense as the lot size argument as it assumes the layout of the property always includes a large back yard.
  4. The new ordinance would also require a permit from the Department of Inspectional Services. Shocking, a permit!
  5. Notice to all abutters within a 300 foot radius. “If we have to tell our neighbors we have bees, and they say they don’t want them there, then what happens?” Ms. Duane of the Worcester County Beekeepers Association asked. Hmmm, I wonder?
  6. The new regulations also come with a sliding scale of fines. First offense will set a beekeeper back $50, a second $100, a third $200 and fourth $300. Didn’t see that coming.

I pick on this proposed regulation because it highlights the intrusion of government into our everyday lives and the creation of laws that eventually cause everyone to inadvertently become law breakers. Further, regulations limit business opportunities.

In just the past few weeks, pedicabs suddenly came to Worcester!  A pedicab is a three-wheeled vehicle operated by pedals with a two-passenger compartment attached to it. They have be used in major cities for years. They are quite common outside of Fenway Park transporting people back and forth from the garages. They are environmentally friendly and can move more freely in tight, congested traffic areas.

When I say a few weeks, the operation just launched on June 17. And already the Telegram is reporting that “city officials believe some type of regulation needs to be put into place for the safety of the public.” Almost as soon as the business started, government jumps in to regulate it, tax it, and thus limit its growth.

Regulations have an effect on everything we do and must be thought out. Once a regulation is in place, fairness and adherence to the law demands that it be enforced.

A recent example of not thinking things out and then attempting to overrule the rule occurred with the Commercial Corridors Overlay (CCO). My attention was drawn to the (CCO) as it limited parking requirements and the types of businesses allowed in the CCO area. I opposed it on Shrewsbury Street because the businesses and residents there did not want it. But where other business groups wanted it, I did not object. It had its merits and demerits, but once it was allowed, it became the law. Needless to say, within months of its passage, some on Council attempted to carve out an exception. Accusations of racism were thrown around, etc. In sum, Council passed an ordinance and then had second thoughts because they didn’t really consider the ramification of the law they created and then tried to break their own law.

To put in place an ordinance that regulates behavior or use of property, one must have a strong rationale and must consider the ramifications. The easiest way to avoid bad results is to only regulate when necessary and limit the regulations as much as possible.

If we are to live in a free society, we must respect the freedoms of others and limit our intrusions on those freedoms, else we limit our own. Clearly regulations aimed at zoning make sense to protect property rights, but they also limit property rights. Mostly, it has a good effect. No one wants to buy a house in a residential neighborhood and wake up one morning to find a neighbor opened a used car dealership or a pig farm. But, when we start creating regulations on items of little import for the sole purpose of regulating it, we have overstepped out bounds.

If we want Worcester to grow and to be an incubator of small business, we shouldn’t be engaging in crafting regulations that are at best unnecessary and at worst stifling to new business.

Let the bees do their job! And let us live our lives!