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News (Media Awareness Project) - US CA: Code Complaint Leads To Eviction Notice
Title:US CA: Code Complaint Leads To Eviction Notice
Published On:2011-12-09
Source:Record Searchlight (Redding, CA)
Fetched On:2011-12-13 06:03:59
CODE COMPLAINT LEADS TO EVICTION NOTICE; REDDING POT CULTIVATOR SAYS
CITY FORCES OUSTER

A Redding medical marijuana patient says the city is forcing his
eviction from his longtime home because he didn't follow the city's
medical marijuana cultivation ordinance.

But city officials insist their actions are nothing personal and
they're only trying to make sure the property adheres to the city's
zoning codes.

"They're going after me by going through my landlord," said James
Benno, 46.

Redding officials notified him that his marijuana garden on Riviera
Drive was violating city ordinances in September - just weeks before
harvest time.

Benno, who received a five-day eviction notice Friday, maintains he's
being targeted because he has been an outspoken critic of the city's
marijuana cultivation ordinance. He's chief executive director of
Nor-Cal NORML, the local chapter of a statewide nonprofit organization
seeking to reform California's marijuana laws.

"I've broken no laws but I'm being forced from my home," Benno
said.

City officials said they aren't targeting Benno but they do want him
and the property owner to comply with city laws.

"Our main objective is to get the property into compliance," said City
Attorney Rick Duvernay.

Benno had 36 plants, ranging from 9- to 14-feet tall and covering 960
square feet of his yard. They were enclosed within a 6-foot-tall
chain-link fence topped with three strands of barbed wire.

Benno was growing for himself and five other people who have doctors'
recommendations for medicinal cannabis, he said.

A city code enforcement officer was sent to Benno's home Sept. 1
following a complaint, said Bill Nagel, Redding's interim development
services director. The identity of the person who made the complaint
is kept confidential to protect from retaliation, he said.

A compliance order issued after the inspection said Benno needed to
reduce the square footage of his cultivation plot to 300 square feet,
move the plot so the plants were at least 10 feet from the backyard
property lines and 30 feet from the nearest neighbor. He also needed
to reduce the height of his plants so they were no taller than 8 feet
high or not visible from the street.

The order also was sent to the property owner, Robert Ballard, who
didn't return a phone call Friday seeking comment.

They were given until Sept. 16 to comply, but Benno said in September
he wouldn't move or trim the plants.

He's been compliant with the order since Nov. 4 after harvesting the
plants in October, he said.

"There hasn't been a plant in the ground since then," Benno
said.

Redding wouldn't order a property owner to evict a tenant over a
zoning code violation, Nagel said.

"Any eviction action is between the tenant and the landlord," he said.
"It would be OK with us if Mr. Benno stayed. Our only concern is if
there was a violation and if there are going to be any violations in
the future."

The matter was set to come before the city's Administrative Hearings
Board Wednesday, though Debra Wright, Redding's code enforcement
supervisor, will ask the board to move the hearing to its January
meeting, according to a staff report.

"It's being continued pending the outcome of this issue between the
tenant and the landlord," Duvernay said.

The city is waiting to see if Benno moves out, which would leave
little risk of future violations at the property, Duvernay said.

"If he does not move out, the risk of future violation is quite high,
since he blatantly refuses to follow the code, and we might need to
pursue the compliance order to completion to prevent the violation
from recurring next summer," he said.

Benno, who said he's lived at the house for 11 years, isn't angry with
his landlord.

"It's not his fault," Benno said. "His heart is not in
this."

He said his garden complied with state law but the city's ordinance
violates the law.

Duvernay disagreed.

"He does not recognize the validity of our zoning ordinance," Duvernay
said Friday.

He said the recent Pack v. Long Beach case, which the city used
in-part as a basis for its recently passed ban on dispensaries, didn't
affect Redding's ability to regulate growing marijuana using zoning
codes.

"At least to this point no court has said a city can't have zoning
regulations," Duvernay said.
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