Council sends proposed personal marijuana law back for rewrite

MARTINEZ, Calif. – Worried that a proposed personal-use marijuana law might be too strict, Martinez City Council asked its staff Wednesday to modify it to allow residents to use backyard greenhouses up to six allowed plants.

That means its introduction won’t take place until later this month.

State law allows individuals to grow up to six plants, but cities still have the right to write their own regulations as well.

The city’s Planning Commission liked the proposed ordinance, which allowed up to six plants in a residence or home unit in a complex, but required any outdoor accessory structure used to raise the plants to be fastened to a foundation, have a filtration and ventilation system, meet building codes and be placed so it couldn’t be visible from the public right of way.

The Commission didn’t recommend changes to the proposed ordinance, but suggested the Council modify it so adjacent neighbors couldn’t see the plants, either.

But if the building had solid, opaque sides, the plants inside would need an artificial light source, which worried some of the Council members.

Another concern was raised by Vice Mayor Noralea Gipner, who worried about adding a requirement that neighbors must be unable to see any plants growing in an accessory building.

When voters approved letting residents grow six plants for personal use, they weren’t expecting people would have to pull permits for heating and light. She thought instead the city would allow greenhouses. “I think this is overkill.”

Gipner said she’s looked at laws in Washington and Oregon. “Other states don’t have problems,” she said.

Saying she has had unfriendly as well as compatible neighbors, she worried that some might take advantage of a neighbor growing cannabis in an accessory building, using it as an opportunity to report the activity.

Councilmember Mark Ross agreed, saying he was concerned about enforcement if someone reported seeing as little as a leaf.

Mayor Rob Schroder recalled when neighbors complained about a Concord yard in which 60 plants were growing. “You could smell it,” he said. Concord imposed an outdoor grow ban, and Martinez quickly followed with its own ban.

But this involves a maximum of only six plants per residence, and he thought the ordinance should allow greenhouses.

A fully enclosed structure as described in the ordinance could be a greenhouse, Assistant City Attorney John Abaci said.

And a structure no larger than 120 square feet and less than 6 feet tall would not require a building permit, Community and Economic Development Director Christina Ratcliffe said. Adding power to an auxiliary building would need a permit. “We don’t want an extension cord.”

However, if the greenhouse were clear, it would allow natural light, and wouldn’t require a permit, she said.

City Manager Brad Kilger said the city should be able to enforce the ordinance if plants are found growing outdoors in a plot or if odors escape the building where they’re raised. “If it meets code, we don’t care,” he said.

Up to six plants, permitted under state law, also could be grown in an individual home. But it would have to remain used as a residential home, and odors must be contained through filtration and ventilation.

Plants couldn’t be grown in rooms used for cooking meals, sleeping or bathing. The plants must belong to the property owner, tenant or resident, whether they’re grown in the home or an accessory building.

City building codes remained on some Councilmembers’ minds during the ordinance’s discussion.

Debbie McKillop said the electrical draw by grow lights is greater than residential Christmas light displays, which often run off extension cords.

She worried that such makeshift wiring could cause a fire that could spread through a neighborhood. Ross concurred, saying many of Martinez’s older homes don’t have the wiring to support grow lights.

The Council agreed to continue the ordinance’s introduction, and City Manager Brad Kilger said a modified version should be ready for the Dec. 19 meeting.

It doesn’t impact commercial marijuana operations, which will be addressed in a separate ordinance that city employees are drafting for presentation to the Council later.

In other matters considered Wednesday, the Council approved a 3.84 percent increase in fees for solid waste and recycling collection and disposal by Allied Waste Systems, also known as Republic Services of Contra Costa County.

The increases, ranging from 75 cents to $1.50 more a month, become effective Jan. 5, 2019.

The Council also approved $90,000 in budget amendments for water system priority projects, including the development of a comprehensive operations plan and manual for the water treatment plant, some changes in employee positions, improving computer maintenance management for the Corporation Yard and Water Treatment Plan and making plans for other needed updates.

Some of the Public Works systems “were groundbreaking 25 to 30 years ago,” Ross said. “It’s time to replace them.”

Outgoing Assistant City Manager Anne Cardwell, who has accepted a similar job in Vallejo, also described updates to the city’s electronic media use policy.

Emails would be archived 24 months in case the city receives a Public Records Act request for documents. But after 90 days, they no longer would be kept on the server, ending a common practice of using emails as a filing system, she said.

However, in keeping with recent legal decisions, employees also would be asked for any city-related business emails and texts that pertain to public records act requests, she said.

By a single vote, the Council adopted its consent calendar.

Those items are adopting the portions of the Contra Costa County Operational Area Hazard Mitigating Plan that apply to the city; suspending parking meter fees during the winter holiday shopping season; amending the Management Compensation Plan and salary schedules for 2014 and 2015; authorizing consulting services agreements for the design of the 2019 Senate Bill 1 paving project and for on-call engineering and surveying services; approving agreements with the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration for implementation of the city’s Transaction and Use Tax; authorizing agreements for the preliminary design for the Ozone System Improvement Project and for on-call water system-related engineering services; and approving agreements with Hinderliter, de Llamas and Associates for transaction and use tax audits and information services.

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