FREMONT -- Medical marijuana growers will have to move inside now that the City Council has banned all outdoor pot gardens and restricted indoor cultivation to plants not visible from outside a building or home.
The council's unanimous decision Tuesday night contrasts with last month's Planning Commission's 4-3 vote to reject the ban. It also had asked city staffers for alternatives that would ease the fire dangers associated with indoor cultivation.
Staffers recommended the new regulation -- which prohibits outdoor cultivation of medical pot or indoors where visible from streets, sidewalks and other public places -- in response to increasing complaints of large marijuana plants in neighbors' backyards.
Two large yards next to homes on Thane Street -- in the Cherry-Guardino neighborhood, between Alameda Creek and Fremont's BART station -- were "filled entirely with pot plants" growing as high as 15 feet, resident Cathy Keebaugh told the council.
The pot gardens stoked neighbors' fears because burglaries and vehicle break-ins increased as the plants grew more conspicuous, Keebaugh said. "What we thought was a safe neighborhood was safe no more," she said.
Officers last year responded to complaints at 16 Fremont residences with marijuana growing inside, police said, triple the five homes reported in 2012, police Capt. Kimberly Petersen said.
The city's goal is to permit medical marijuana cultivation while reducing nuisances such as odors and crime, Petersen said.
"This is an attempt to take a reasonable middle ground," she said.
But some patients, such as Irvington district resident Carol Jacquez, who takes marijuana for chronic pain, said that forcing growers inside will weaken public safety. "The use of grow lights in an enclosed area increases the possibility of a fire, thus endangering my family and neighbors," she said.
Jacquez, 56, said her dislike for indoor growing might prevent her from growing at all, which would stretch her budget dangerously thin. "I can't afford the prices charged by dispensaries for the medical marijuana I need," she said.
Mayor Bill Harrison, echoing the comments of fellow council members, said he wanted to balance public safety with the needs of patients.
"I've had friends who benefitted from medical marijuana, but I also know cases where it's been abused," he said. "We're going to protect neighborhood safety and integrity, while still allowing personal use."
The new regulation likely will take effect in early April, said Fremont assistant city attorney Debra Margolis.
Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.