FREMONT -- Police and city planners had hoped to ban publicly visible outdoor medical marijuana gardens to ease residents' concerns about crime, but the Planning Commission, worried about the hazards of increased indoor cultivation, asked city staffers to find another solution.
While trying to reduce the burglaries and robberies that outdoor cultivation invites, a narrow majority of commissioners said last week that sending more growers indoors might increase the environmental and safety problems associated with that method.
"With indoor cultivation, there are increased fire hazards, more spikes in illegal electricity use that is off the grid, and increased environmental degradation, such as mold," said Commissioner David Bonaccorsi. The commissioners' 4-3 vote was a signal that there might be a better way than what they were proposing to reduce crime, said Bonaccorsi.
"The Planning Commission was asking staff if there is some way to regulate outdoor cultivation that would not increase indoor cultivation," he said.
Fremont city staffers came up with the idea -- which would prohibit outdoor growing of medical pot or indoor cultivation where visible from streets, sidewalks and other public places -- in response to some residents' increasing complaints of marijuana growing in neighbors' backyards.
"We were trying to solve the residents' concerns, which were the physical nuisances, such as the smell and the fear that they were going to be burglarized," City Attorney Harvey Levine said. "They were endangering neighbors by having valuable and highly visible marijuana plants growing in the back yard."
Fremont is just the latest East Bay city to grapple with the issue. Last year, Concord banned all outdoor medical marijuana cultivation and restricted growing to occupied residences only.
If passed, Fremont's ban would be more lenient than Tracy's, which prohibits all cultivation. But in doing so, Fremont would become more restrictive than Union City and Newark. Those neighboring southern Alameda County cities defer to state law on medical pot cultivation, which allows growers up to six mature marijuana plants and 12 immature plants per person.
The cities of Fremont, Union City and Newark each have banned medical pot dispensaries.
The Fremont Planning Commission's vote is not binding, and the five-member City Council could approve the ban on Feb. 11, when it is scheduled to consider the issue.
Councilwoman Anu Natarajan said Monday she still is looking at information on the issue and is not yet sure how she will vote.
Despite the commissioners' decision, city employees will not amend their proposal for council members, said Fremont deputy city attorney Prasanna Rasiah.
"Our view is that this is a measured approach," he said. "This is not an attempt to ban it altogether in the city, it's just an attempt to guard against criminal activity and address concerns of neighbors and police."
Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.