13 February 2013

Chino Hills Maternity Hotel Court Judgment Issued

In a short blurb in this morning's Los Angeles Times, it was reported that a filing in San Bernardino County Superior Court on Monday indicated that the operator of the "maternity hotel" in Chino Hills has agreed to stop running the Los Angeles Hermas Hotel.

Moreover, Hai Wong Yu also consented to fixing all code violations that were made during the course of renovations of the house, which included 17 bedrooms and bathrooms, with exposed electric wires and insufficent smoke alarms being the ones mentioned in the article.

As noted previously, the operation of the business appeared to have stopped a couple of months ago once exposure of the business (including a large amount of sewage that overwhelmed the septic system not intended for the number of people using it and spilled down from the hillside property and into storm drains) had attracted the attention of neighbors, who then formed an ad-hoc civic group called "Not in Chino Hills," and then the city stepped in to obtain an cease-and-desist injunction after a property inspection revealed numerous violations of city ordinances.

The outcome of the Monday hearing was a "stipulated judgment," in which both sides mutually agree to a conclusion of the matter without resorting to a trial based on either a civil suit or criminal charge.  Key to this is that the defendant (in this case, Yu) had already ended the behavior cited by the plaintiff (the City of Chino Hills) as the grounds for taking the matter to the courts and agrees to have the court issue a final and binding judgment, also called a "consent decree."  Notably, if the defendant were to resume the activity which led to the judgment or fail to meet the conditions established in the filing (such as remedying the violations of code), a filing for contempt could be filed which might then lead to a garnishment of wages or a lien on the property.

It seems obvious that the house will not only have to be brought back to conformation with code, but be retooled for its intended residential use (after all, its septic system can only handle so much.)  Perhaps Yu will do the minimum and then try to sell the property as-is.  It will be interesting to see what happens to the short-lived hotel that tried to operate under the radar but was halted due to the watchful eyes of its neighbors, whose diligence and determination led to a successful conclusion.

UPDATE, 15 February 2013:  As expected, a longer, more thorough article on the recent court judgment in the Los Angeles Hermas Hotel case appeared in tomorrow's edition of the Champion as reported by Marianne Napoles. 

Specifically, the court order gave property owner Hai Wong Yu seven months to correct nine code violations with the structure, including insufficient septic system capacity for the 17 bedrooms and 17 bathrooms in the residence, a lack of emergency exits for the bedrooms, the illegal construction of the added bedrooms and bathrooms, required clearance for combustible items, necessary ventilation, code-mandated smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, and dealing with exposed electrical wires.  The property is not to be occupied in any way until all of these corrections are made.

With regards to the condition of the judgment disallowing any use of the property for commercial reasons, the grassroots group "Not in Chino Hills," as stated in the Champion article, remains skeptical that the court filing will keep Yu from operating a "maternity hotel" under the guise of having house guests there, because, they argue, he will be able to keep the additional rooms and general infrastructure that would support a continuing illicit use of the house. 

The group's Web site (click here), however, albeit in confusingly-rendered wording including a reference to 19 February, which is not quite here yet, expresses concern about the fact that Yu would not have to return the structure to its as-built 7 bedrooms and 6 1/2 bathrooms, but says nothing about his resuming the "maternity hotel."  That particular concern came in two statements by local residents interviewed for the article.

In reply, Chino Hills City Attorney Mark Hensley stated that the clarity of the judgment with regards to any intended commercial use of the property is unmistakable and that the requirement for emergency exits will force Yu to reduce the number of bedrooms (his attorney and representative had stated in early January that he advised just that).  Hensley was quoted as saying that, "I feel very comfortable that the likelihood of the facility being used for illegal purposes is incredibly low."

It seems likely, in any case, that neighboring residents will be keeping a very close eye on the property in the future!


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