Early this month, in its edition of 3 November, the Chino Hills Champion ran an article from reporter Marianne Napoles about a sprawling 7,000-square foot house on ten acres overlooking Carbon Canyon Road near Chino Hills Parkway, in which, since this past March, a facility calling itself the "Los Angeles Hermas Hotel" is housing pregnant women from China who pay $5,000 to $15,000 per month to fly into the area; stay at the "hotel" and units at the Green Valley Apartments downslope from the mansion; use shuttle services to and from their "hotels;" give birth in a Monterey Park hospital; recuperate for a month at the "hotel;" and then return home, but with a child that is an American citizen. The house, which attracted some attention, because its previous owner, Julie Sa, sought to subdivide the parcel for four additional units, was bought in 2011 by Hai Wong Yu. Further attention was generated in the late winter when nearby residents noticed groups of expecting Chinese women walking through the neighborhood and cars shuttling to and from the "hotel" to the Green Valley Apartments.
A Chinese Web site, www.asiamchild.com, (click here to visit the site, which, obviously, is in Chinese, though you can try a translation function that may or may not help in understanding the site's content) promotes the enterprise, which at those prices clearly is available to the rapidly-growing well-to-do of mainland China. The 3 November article stated that a previously-operating site advised its clients to seek a "tourism" visa and then travel in the early stages (before the ladies start "showing"), so as to avoid scrutiny. The site promotes visits to regional tourist attractions and spells out manifold benefits to having U.S.-born babies, who, as citizens, are eligible for free public education through high school, in-state tuition fees at colleges and universities, low-interest education loans, high-paying jobs, Social Security benefits, and so forth. Not surprisingly, the original site was taken down and a redirection was made to the current one.
Notably, no one in city government was aware of the existence of this enterprise, of which variants are found throughout the United States and emanating from China and other countries. Since then, Napoles has followed up with updated reporting, just about each week, including one in tomorrow's 1 December edition.
In the newest piece, the City of Chino Hills, rebuffed in a request to inspect the home, received a court order to inspect the residence, did so last week and is now prepared to issue a cease-and-desist order after checking for violations of city code. From a criminal law perspective, a review by the Chino Hills Police Department found that no illegal activity was being conducted in the operation of the "hotel."
It was determined in September that extensive renovations were conducted without permits and, more noticeably, 2,000 gallons of raw sewage leaked from the property and contaminated a storm drain back. Because of its location, like those in Carbon Canyon, the house is on a septic system and it was reported that Wu hired a company to clean the tank every day, whereas most owners of properties with septic might do so every few years.
Curiously, Wu's attorney, Add Smith, who first claimed his client had relatives staying with him at the house and that he had no knowledge of the use of the house as a "maternity hotel," later expressed a bland conclusion that the property owner needed to address the laws of the city and state. As it turned out, however, Smith has also, along with his son, been the building and planning consultants for the "hotel"! It would not appear that Wu has received adequate consultation or counsel from Smith, who has been evidently "confused" about the project he has been paid to advise on from both legal and operational standpoints!
Last week's review of the property uncovered more violations of code City attorney Mark Hensley explained that, within a couple of weeks, that order would be issued and noted that the case was quite strong for a code enforcement prosecution. At the same time, Hensley cautioned the city and its officers and staff from getting involved in "political" elements surrounding the case. Specifically, this meant council member attendance and commentary in and among the community regarding the "hotel" and its operations.
This is because there has been a groundswell of activity from local residents in recent weeks, including discussions between concerned residents at city and police officials on the 8th; a town hall meeting on the 17th with Assembly member Curt Hagman; the formation of a new grassroots organization calling itself notinchinohills.org (click here to visit the site); a meeting held two days ago at the house of former school board member and recently-defeated city council candidate Rossanna Mitchell; and a public protest to be held tomorrow at 10 a.m. at the corner of Peyton Drive and Chino Hills Parkway.
Mitchell has, in fact, been getting plenty of media exposure of late, including interviews on KABC's television news program and the show of the controversial radio duo John and Ken of KFI, both airing just today. It is perhaps not a coincidence that Mitchell is running again for council in the Spring special election for the recently-vacated seat of Bill Kruger.
Predictably, the outcry on this whole episode takes on many dimensions. Some decry the use of a commercial endeavor in a residential neighborhood. Others lament the "anchor baby" or "maternity tourism" component as a manipulation of 14th Amendment citizenship rights. A few have expressed concern about speeding shuttles through the area's streets and the sewage overflow into the neighborhood. And, there are those who cite all these and probably other reasons.
The "Not in Chino Hills" Web site is rather vague about its purposes, stating:
Yet, nowhere on the site is there anything specific about the grounds that exist to "protect our city" and "our family-oriented community" with "a vigilant eye" from the "maternity hotel."
Regardless of the moral, ethical and political issues involved, the only response the city can take is on the legal question of code violations and the use of the property relative to its zoning. Assembly member Hagman did state that the lack of a business license was tantamount to tax evasion, which was a matter for the state Franchise Tax Board to deal with.
As City Attorney Hensley stated, further developments should come to light soon about the city's order for the "hotel" to cease operations under current conditions. What comes beyond that will be interesting to observe.
UPDATE, 4 December: The San Gabriel Valley Tribune has weighed in on the maternity "hotel" matter in its today's edition editorial pages, as can be seen here. Whether its call for county, state and federal intervention is heeded will be something to watch in upcoming weeks and months.
UPDATE, 5 December: Another article from the San Bernardino Sun on this maternity "hotel" issue and reporting on another community meeting sponsored by the "Not in Chino Hills" group can be found here.
UPDATE, 10 December. And, there's more from the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin about the general issue of "maternity tourism," as contained here. In the same issue is an allegation of another "maternity hotel" site in the Grand Pointe gated community, as found here. A couple of days back is this piece (click here) in which city officials comment on the "Not in Chino Hills" group's activities. And, if you can't get enough, there's more: try here and here and more on the general issue related to the 14th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution is here.
UPDATE, 17 December: The Champion, with reporter Marianne Napoles continuing her in-depth coverage of this issue, had more interesting information in last Saturday's (15 December) issue. A court-ordered inspection of the interior of the "hotel" took place after several attempts by police and city officials were rejected by the property owner.
The unannounced visit, on 19 November, revealed that the house, built in the mid-1970s with 7 bedrooms and 6 bathrooms, was illegally converted to 17 (yes, 17) of each. 10 of the rooms were occupied and one woman there stated that she was paying $150 a day, even though there were a host of unsafe conditions in the structure, including exposed electrical wires, insufficient bathroom ventilation, areas of rooms without sufficient flooring, non-habitable spaces converted to rooms, food served without county health permits, and etc.
In addition, the property was using 4,000 gallons of water a day, but with a septic system only to designed to handle 1,500. Employees did not have work permits, but were on travel visas and there were no doctors or nurses at the site, according to an affidavit by a former employee. This for a "hotel" for pregnant women (with their newborns) paying hefty sums for the privilege of living in a residence nowhere near up to code.
Chino Hills City Attorney Mark Hensley has requested a cease-and-desist order from the court, requiring that the business shut down its operations. From there, who knows what will be done regarding illegalities germane to the "hotel"'s operations.