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Illegal fireworks crackdown
Manteca ponders new law, $1,000 fine
Manteca Police Officer David Bright is shown in 2014 loading part of more than a ton of illegal fireworks that were seized from a home in Powers Tract. - photo by Bulletin file photo

The days of people firing off illegal fireworks without facing any real prospective of punishment in Manteca may be numbered.

The Manteca City Council is exploring changes in the municipal ordinance that — if implemented — would target property owners for allowing the discharge of illegal fireworks from land they own whether they occupy it or rent it out.

Under California law, The city can assess a $1,000 fine and only needs to provide proof such as undercover officers videotaping illegal fireworks being shot off to tie it to a particular property. Currently city ordinances are tied into misdemeanors targeting individuals for the use of illegal fireworks. They require either an officer to actually witness someone launching illegal fireworks or neighbors willing to make a citizen’s arrest and then follow up by testifying in court.

Union City, Clovis, Fresno and Kern County have put such ordinances in place. They are based on the same state laws that Manteca used during the housing crisis to make property owners responsible for addressing blight involving their rental.

Councilman Richard Silverman researched what other communities were doing to combat illegal fireworks in a bid to come up with a solution. One that other cities say is effective is the tie into the property owner

Clovis this year was able to legally document 20 instances of illegal fireworks being shot off during the Fourth of July weekend. They have sent citations to the property owners along with a notice they are being fined $1,000.

Mayor Steve DeBrum said he wasn’t keen on the idea of holding property owners responsible when tenants may be the ones firing off illegal fireworks. In communities where such a law has been in place, the property owner often recoups the fine by requiring tenants to reimburse them. It could also lead to renters being booted out of homes.

Councilman Vince Hernandez brought the issue of fireworks in general up due to severe drought conditions and the proliferation of illegal fireworks that are essentially ones that get airborne or else move along the ground. He also noted a lot of pet owners, elderly and those who have served in war zones with post traumatic stress disorder have severe issues with the illegal firework. Hernandez also said a number of homes in Manteca have shake roofs plus lawns due to the drought have become tinder dry.

To that DeBrum noted a spark from a lawn mower while cutting grass could start a fire.

Councilman Mike Morowit said he would be against banning the sale of and sane fireworks in Manteca.

He noted Alameda has a similar ban but that didn’t stop residents from buying fireworks in nearby communities and bringing them back into that city to shoot off.

“People all became criminals,” Morowit noted.

The rest of the council concurred the problem wasn’t with safe and sane fireworks.

Fire Chief Kirk Waters indicated almost all fires and medical calls the department has handled in the past five years related to fireworks during the Fourth of July have been tied to illegal fireworks.

There may be an

app to nab illegal

fireworks users

The manufacturers of safe and sane fireworks may also be able to help the city if they adopt a property owner based ordinance in sealing with fireworks.

Dennis Revell representing T-n-T Fireworks told the council the industry is working on a free app they plan to make available to cities that would allow anyone to download it and record illegal fireworks being shot off and to send them directly to police departments. The videos, if they can be tied to a specific property by showing structures and the address, would meet the evidence threshold for an ordinance such as the one that Clovis employs.

Revell concurred with observations made by Police Chief Nick Obligacion and Mayor DeBrum that this year was the worst for illegal fireworks in at least 25 years.

He said that’s because the state fire marshal is no longer complying with laws that it enforce state law regarding illegal fireworks,

Revell noted illegal fireworks — which are legal in most other states — move into this country from China through four ports: Seattle, Oakland, Los Angeles, and Long Beach. Shipments leaving the port by rail aren’t an issue as those are readily tracked to where they are headed which is out of state. The problem is tied to fireworks that leave the ports by truck.

Revell said legal fireworks providers have evidence that many of those trucks unloaded at points in California. One seller of illegal fireworks moved 50 semi-truck loads into Southern California. Another openly posted they had $5 million of sales in Southern California.

City Attorney John Brinton will be meeting with  the police and fire chiefs to devise ways the city could make it easier to prosecute those using illegal fireworks and present those options to the council.