Just in time for the Fourth: Fine going up
On the Fourth of July, some $30,000 worth of finely-tuned explosives will be launched by licensed pyrotechnic professionals from the Crescent City jetty, filling the night sky with that once-a-year sparkle and smoke.
If history is any indicator, children will gape, adults will ooh and ahh, dogs will cower. Thousands of visitors come to town every year to take in the spectacle.
Also every year, untold pounds of illegal fireworks sear the same smoky sky. People line the beaches with personal troves of explosives.
“We’ve had people’s houses burn, fingers blown off,” Mayor Kathryn Murray said at this week’s City Council meeting, at which the council unanimously approved an emergency ordinance that will make amateurs who set off any illegal fireworks in Crescent City limits accountable to the tune of $1,000 for the first violation, $2,000 for the second and $3,000 for the third.
Any fireworks that fly up in the air, explode or move about on the ground are illegal, including firecrackers, M-80s, M-100s, bottle rockets and roman candles. This ban isn’t law just north of the Klamath — it’s statewide. The city’s new ordinance, which only applies to people caught with less than 25 pounds of illegal fireworks, wasn’t drafted from local minds, either.
It was then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, an actor known for starring alongside countless, glitzy explosions, who signed a 2007 bill into law, allowing localities to impose steep fines. If someone is busted with more than 25 pounds of illegal fireworks, they are subject to even more seriously punitive state laws.
The law gives the state’s “sane and safe” policy some punitive power in city limits and also creates economic incentives for city officials to enforce that policy. The fines collected would go to the city, rather than the state’s general fund.
“Although $1,000 may seem like a lot, if there’s a seizure and we forward (the fireworks) to the State Fire Marshal, it’s really only $350 (for the city), which is probably barely the cost of an officer doing this,” said City Attorney Bob Black during the council discussion. He explained that any illegal fireworks seized must be shipped off to the state for disposal, which in conjunction with administrative costs, burns up a majority of the cash destined for the city’s strapped general fund.
Crescent City resident Paul Dillard raised two concerns. One was that with steep fines to fear, people will just “go off in the bushes,” a more dangerous setting for fireworks than the beach.
He also said: “My issue is timing. This is no new issue. This bill was passed in 2007. Why is this such an emergent issue two weeks before the Fourth? ... There’s a lot of education that needs to be done before you do this.”
“We’ve done the education … It’s now time for the enforcement. I don’t worry about the people that aren’t going to stay here because they wanted to do something illegally. I don’t want them here in the first place,” Councilman Rich Enea said.
He has worked on a committee with Police Chief Doug Plack and others to devise ways of preventing fireworks-related losses and injuries, primarily by educating the public about what is and isn’t permissible.
Examples of legal, “safe and sane” fireworks include: fountains, sparklers, wheels, smoke and snake items, strobes, ground spinners, novelty fireworks that do not travel in the air or on the ground, snappers and caps.
Enea echoed Dillard’s concerns about people sneaking off to the bushes, as well as the relatively small area encompassed by city limits.
“If they go outside the city, the enforcement will effectively stop and I’m a little bit concerned that if people take this seriously, they may go into the wooded areas and shoot these fireworks,” Enea said.
Del Norte County Sheriff Dean Wilson said the county’s policy is the same as always — predominately complaint-driven, rather than the aim of regular patrols on one of the busiest days of the year for local law enforcement.
“Our priorities are anything that involves injury or violence. We get a lot of drinking complaints, a good number of domestic violence calls, unfortunately a lot of accidents, a large number missing persons ... a lot of alcohol related offenses,” he said.
The Sheriff's Office works closely with Cal-Fire to stop and seize illegal fireworks displays, said Wilson.
Last year, the dispatcher fielded more than 200 calls on the Fourth of July, and more than 100 pounds of illegal fireworks were seized.
In 2010, volunteers reported picking up over 2,000 pounds of trash on the beaches in the aftermath of Independence Day.