A New Strategy for Combatting Growhouses?

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Puff, puff, pass indeed...
Last week, we reported on how Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier, in the wake of a rare massive pot bust in her district, wrote a terse letter to the Department of Building Inspection. The crux of the letter: Can't you folks do more to catch pot growers illegally "jumping the box" and stealing electricity (which often leads to fires)?

The answer: It's not so easy to do that. But there are things that can be done.

Ed Sweeney, the DBI's deputy director for inspection, said it would be very difficult for a city building inspector catch a pot growhouse illegally wiring up its indoor farm via a routine inspection. More likely, they'd need to receive a complaint that such an operation was going on -- and, logically, complaints about massive illegal growhouses are probably best directed to the police first and the Department of Building Inspection second.

That being said, Sweeney noted that a PG&E meter reader might be able to catch illegal wiring with just a glance. "If you look real closely, into the [power meter's] window, you can see some wires have been moved," he says. "Sometimes they get sloppy and you can see a couple of wires. What happens is, they have a box behind [the meter] -- and it says these people are using $100 or $200 a month. But behind that, there's another meter which is just spinning."

Most growhouse fires Sweeney has seen come about because growers use wiring that's too small, which overheats, and triggers a blaze.



Less explosive than fire, however, is the problem of cross-water connections. The aftermath of having a farm in an urban home is that heavy fertilizers and other detritus spilling into a sink lead to the possibility of bacteria or fungus traveling up the pipes and contaminating the general water supply.

While the Department of Building Inspection may not be able to proactively catch pot-growers in the act per Alioto-Pier's wishes, it does seem that the city is adopting a new strategy regarding growhouses.

Sweeney, along with plumbing and electrical inspectors, was called to a July 14 bust on the 300 block of Baltimore. In addition to criminal charges, the inspectors were able to nail the property owners for work done without permits, plumbing violations relating to cross-water connections, and, on the electrical side, jumping the box.

"That was the first time I was called out like that," said Sweeney. "And the police said that was going to become more and more common." (The SFPD hasn't yet returned our messages on whether this is a new city or department policy).

Sweeney said he was glad Alioto-Pier wrote to his department about growhouses, even if he can't do everything she'd like him to do.

"It's an attempt to get everyone to start talking about this, and that's a good thing," he says. "I don't have a problem with people growing pot. But they should do it properly. Don't steal power and don't compromise the safety of your neighbors. Do it right."

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