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    24.    
City Council Regular
Meeting Date: 05/22/2018  

SUBJECT:
ADOPT URGENCY ORDINANCE AMENDING THE CHINO HILLS MUNICIPAL CODE TO AUTHORIZE CITY BUILDING OFFICIAL TO REMOVE AND/OR DISCONNECT UTILITY METER FOR HEALTH AND SAFETY PURPOSES
RECOMMENDATION:
  1. Introduce and adopt by minimum four/fifths vote an Urgency Ordinance entitled: An Urgency Ordinance of the City Council of the City of Chino Hills, California, Amending Section R111.3 of the 2016 California Residential Code to Authorize the City Building Official to Remove and/or Disconnect Service Utility When the Health, Safety and Welfare of the General Public Has or Will be Endangered by Violations of the Chino Hills Municipal Code - to take effect immediately upon adoption; or
     
  2. Alternatively, discuss and take other action related to this item.
BACKGROUND/ANALYSIS:
In 2016, the City of Chino Hills enacted an Ordinance to prohibit commercial marijuana activities throughout the City1.  Nevertheless, illegal indoor marijuana growing operations, otherwise known as “grow houses,” have proliferated throughout California, including in Chino Hills.  Grow houses are buildings which have been rented or purchased for the purpose of producing cash crops such as marijuana in excess of that which is allowed by law and are often linked to organized crime2.  In order to facilitate the production of marijuana, these buildings are physically altered (e.g., by removing kitchens and/or creating makeshift rooms) in order to create the space needed to cultivate marijuana indoors on a large scale.  Grow houses are often unattended and have the potential to cause harm to persons and property due to the fact that these operations utilize high wattage grow lights, commercial-grade filtering devices to hide marijuana odors, and illegally wired and/or overloaded electrical systems which, when taken cumulatively, increase the risk of fire and injury to persons and property.  Additionally, because these grow houses are not meant to be inhabited, the properties are generally not adequately maintained or cared for, the exterior maintenance of the property is often neglected and contaminants from insecticides, herbicides and fertilizers are often flushed down the drain/waste system and introduced into the City’s sewer system.   
 
Further, in the last seven months, there have been a number of reported incidents of indoor marijuana cultivation sites causing fires:
  1. In August 2017, equipment used to grow marijuana indoors triggered an electrical fire in a home located in the city of Pinole3
     
  2. In November 2017, a fire in a residence in Sacramento was caused by the indoor cultivation of marijuana4; and faulty wiring (in an attempt to bypass an electrical meter) used to facilitate the cultivation of marijuana indoors was the cause of a fire at a residence in Chino Hills (specifically, 1807 Nordic Ave)5;
     
  3. In January 2018, a fire in a detached garage was caused by the indoor cultivation of marijuana in Oakland6; and in Jurupa Valley, a marijuana grow house fire resulted in a victim being trapped within the burning residence behind security doors (which had been constructed within the grow house to protect the marijuana crops)7; and
     
  4. On May 5, 2018, electrical issues resulted in a fire in Merced caused by the indoor cultivation of marijuana8.       
Even after the illegal operation ceases, buildings that have been used as grow houses often contain significant health and safety hazards.  Substantial damage and hazardous conditions found in these buildings can include structural problems, electrical tampering, chemical contamination, increased levels of combustion gases, and abundant growth of visible and hidden molds.
 
The City’s Police Department recently identified at least five (5) marijuana grow houses operating within the City.  While some of the owners of these grow houses have complied with red-tags posted by the Building Official prohibiting entry and are properly seeking permits to assess and remediate the structures, at least one unremediated grow house has been observed to be inhabited again without approval by the Building Official.  Staff is proposing to eliminate and ensure that public health and safety is protected from grow houses by disconnecting the utility services thereto until an assessment and approved remediation plan is properly completed.  This Ordinance is urgently needed to address the known marijuana grow houses as well as any that may soon be uncovered.
 
CHMC Chapter 15.04 adopts by reference the 2016 California Residential Code (CRC); CHMC Section 15.04.040 amends certain provisions of the California Residential Code.  Section R 111.3 of the CRC provides the Building Official with the authority to disconnect service utilities under specific circumstances, generally whenever the Building Official determines that there is an immediate threat to life, health, safety or property.  The proposed Urgency Ordinance would:
  1. Allow the City Building Official to disconnect a service utility when:
    1. There is an immediate hazard to life or property;
    2. The structure has been altered without approvals/permits/inspections, and these alterations create a danger to health and safety; or
    3. The utility connection has been made without the approvals otherwise required by the CRC. 
  2. Allow the City Building Official to remove a service utility meter if, after disconnection, the meter has been tampered with and/or results in the unauthorized reconnection of the utility to the property; 
  3. Require notification to the property owner, the owner’s authorized agent, and/or occupants that the utility will be disconnected unless the City Building Official determines that severity of the hazard justifies disconnection without prior notification (in which case, notification will be made as soon after disconnection as reasonably possible);
  4. Allow reconnection of the utility upon the City Building Official’s satisfaction that the property has been brought into compliance; and
  5. Authorizes the City Council to establish (by Resolution) fees for the disconnection of the utility service by the City Building Official.
Justification for the amendments proposed by the Urgency Ordinance include, without limitation: (1) Buildings that have been used as grow houses often contain significant health and safety hazards.  Substantial damage and hazardous conditions found in these buildings can include structural problems, electrical tampering, chemical contamination, increased levels of combustion gases, and abundant growth of visible and hidden molds. To ensure that a proper building assessment and remediation plan is developed and implemented prior to buildings used as grow houses being inhabited again, shutting off the utilities is more effective than merely red-tagging the structure; (2)  the increased risk to public safety, based on the value of marijuana plants and the accompanying threat of break-ins, burglary and theft, and attendant violence and injury; and (3) the risk of electrical fire hazards caused by the illegal large-scale indoor cultivation of marijuana. 
 
The Urgency Ordinance requires the City Council make the findings listed in the draft Ordinance and be adopted by a 4/5 vote. If approved, the Urgency Ordinance will take effect immediately.
 
[1]There is an exception, however, in that - “commercial marijuana activities” do not include planting, cultivation, harvesting, drying or processing of six (6) living marijuana plants, by persons 21 years of age or older, “within a single private residence, or upon the grounds of that private residence, at one time.”[1]  Any person over the age of 18 who plants, cultivates, harvests, dries or processes marijuana in excess of 6 plants per household shall be punished by either imprisonment for six (6) months, or a $500.00 fine, or both.  See Health and Safety Code § 11358; notwithstanding other aggravating circumstances which would result in the imposition of a higher penalty.
[2] The Associated Press, Feds Seize Over 100 Marijuana Grow Houses Linked to China-Based Criminals, CBS Los Angeles, April 4, 2018, http://losangeles.cbslocal.com/2018/04/04/doj-raid-marijuana-grow-houses-linked-to-china/ (last visited May 11, 2018)
Bethania Palma, Pot Houses Linked to Gangs, San Gabriel Valley Tribune, August 30, 2017, https://www.sgvtribune.com/2010/09/04/pot-houses-linked-to-gangs-marijuana-dispensaries/ (last visited May 11, 2018)
Rob Parsons, Fire Leads Merced Deputies to “Organized Crime” Marijuana Grow, The Merced Sun Star, December 20, 2016, http://www.mercedsunstar.com/news/article123916779.html (last visited May 11, 2018)
[3]California News Wire Services, Marijuana Grow Operation Starts Pinole House Fire, The Pinole Patch, August 29, 2017, https://patch.com/california/pinole-hercules/marijuana-grow-operation-starts-pinole-house-fire (last visited May 11, 2018).
[4] Benjy Egel, Marijuana Grow House Burns on 32nd Avenue in Sacramento, The Sacramento Bee, November 1, 2017, http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/crime/article182072451.html (last visited May 11, 2018).
[5] Beau Yarbrough, Firefighters Discover Indoor Marijuana Farm in Chino Hills, The OC Register, November 18, 2017, https://www.ocregister.com/2017/11/18/firefighters-discover-indoor-marijuana-farm-in-chino-hills/ (last visited May 11, 2018).
[6] Harry Harris, Marijuana Grow Linked to East Oakland Fire, The Mercury News, January 16, 2018, https://www.mercurynews.com/2018/01/16/marijuana-grow-linked-to-east-oakland-fire/ (last visited May 11, 2018).
[7] Liset Marquez, Woman Rescued From Burning Marijuana Grow House In Jurupa Valley, The Press-Enterprise, January 20, 2018,  https://www.pe.com/2018/01/20/woman-rescued-from-burning-marijuana-grow-house-in-jurupa-valley-officials-say/ (last visited May 11, 2018).
[8] Rob Parsons, Marijuana Grow Discovered at Scene of House Fire in Merced, The Merced Sun Star, May 7, 2018, http://www.mercedsunstar.com/news/local/article210664369.html (last visited May 11, 2018).
 
ENVIRONMENTAL (CEQA) REVIEW:
Adoption of the proposed Urgency Ordinance is not subject to review under the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) under CEQA Guidelines section 15061(b)(3) because there is no possibility that the Ordinance may have a significant effect on the environment.  The proposed Urgency Ordinance clarifies existing remedies and procedures related to the CHMC.  Enactment of the Urgency Ordinance will not delete or substantially change any regulatory standards or required findings; rather, the proposed Urgency Ordinance would enhance protection of the environment.
FISCAL IMPACT:
There is no immediate financial impact associated with the enactment of this Urgency Ordinance; however, if the Urgency Ordinance is enacted, the City could recover fees related to the disconnection of utility services upon adoption of a City Council Resolution authorizing the same.
Attachments
Urgency Ordinance

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