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Explosive issue polarizes Lathrop city officials and some residents

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POSTED May 3, 2010 1:17 a.m.
Safe and Sane Fireworks is becoming an explosive issue in Lathrop that is polarizing some residents and a member of the City Council, not to mention a retired fire chief.

The opposition’s opening salvo was delivered by Councilman Christopher Mateo at the last City Council meeting when he announced that in no way is he going to put his stamp of approval on an issue that could jeopardize the safety and life of the people he serves. He stated in no uncertain terms that his “top priority as an elected official is to preserve life and limbs.”

Piggy-backing on his statement at the same meeting was resident Tony Martin, a member of the Top Dog Club of San Joaquin County, whose worry was the effect of fireworks on pets.

On the other side of the controversial issue are the community’s various nonprofit organizations that stand to benefit financially from selling Safe and Sane Fireworks for the Fourth of July and Lathrop’s July 1 Birthday celebrations. These groups include the Lathrop Rotary, Lathrop Kiwanis, Lathrop Lions, the July 1 Lathrop Birthday Celebration Committee, Little League Baseball, Chamber of Commerce, and others.

Resident Rosalinda Valencia clearly spelled out the reason why these nonprofit organizations are eager to be one of those selected to have a Safe and Sane Fireworks booth this year. She announced at the last council meeting that her own church in Manteca, which was fortunate to win the lottery selection and got a booth last year, raised $27,000 in three days alone.

As anyone who has participated in various fund-raisers, you have to wash hundreds of cars and trucks or flip thousands of omelets and pancakes to get that kind of money. And that’s why it’s easy to understand why many in Lathrop are eager to get rid of the ordinance banning the sale of fireworks in the city and replace with one that will it possible for organizations to conduct their own Safe and Sane Fireworks.

It’s been done successfully in Manteca for a number of years, so there’s no reason why it would not succeed in Lathrop, they rationalized. Several residents have also pointed out that people in Lathrop have always come to Manteca or any other community that sold fireworks; having them available in town will keep the money locally and benefit the city.

Retired Lathrop-Manteca Fire Chief Jim Monty weighed in on the controversy in a comment he wrote on the Manteca Bulletin story online.

“As before (and) as a retired chief, I still feel this proposed ordinance is a bad deal for all,” he wrote.

“First is safety: more people get injured by safe-and-sane fireworks every year, and most of these people are children. Second: budget, although this may be a great way to raise money for local charities (and, of course, the fireworks companies), it will cost the fire district many hours of overtime to inspect the sales and storage locations. And third: the number of places that will now use fireworks will increase because now it will be legal (currently in Lathrop, most people either refrain from using fireworks or go to a neighboring area to use their fireworks.”

He added, “I am not against fireworks, I just feel that fireworks should be used by trained and certified pyrotechnic professionals and let the average citizen enjoy viewing them safely.”

In the report submitted by staff to council, some of the issues mentioned by Monty such as overtime pay for fire district personnel, are addressed with accompanying suggested mitigations.

Those who feel strongly about the issue can join in the discussion tonight when the council will vote on changing the city ordinance to allow the sale of fireworks. The meeting will be held at 7 o’clock in the council chambers at City Hall, 390 Towne Centre Drive at Mossdale Landing.

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