Those firing off illegal fireworks in Manteca starting July 1 could run a greater risk of being slapped with a $750 fine plus the cost of police and fire responses.
Police Chief Nick Obligacion and Fire Chief Kirk Waters hammered out a proposed amendment to Manteca’s municipal code that has the promise of ending the cat and mouse enforcement attempts in past years that have left both public safety officials and impacted neighbors frustrated.
uEliminates the need for law enforcement to actually see a person discharging illegal fireworks. Instead all they have to do is ascertain the property that illegal fireworks were launched from.
uMakes whoever has immediate control of the property — if it is not owner occupied then it is essentially whoever rents or leases the property — is held responsible under a social host approach. That means landlords won’t be held accountable for their tenants breaking the municipal ordinance banning illegal fireworks.
uMoves the fines and citation process from the courts to administrative citation enforcement. This typically speeds the process up plus assures that a penalty will be assessed when evidence is presented.
uAllows a third party to put in motion an administrative citation by signing an affidavit. Similar to a witness to any other criminal activity, the witness will be required to attend an appeal hearing if the person cited requests one — and testify if necessary.
uEstablishes a fine of $750 for the first violation and $1,000 for a second violation in the same calendar year. Prior fines were established by the court system.
uAllows the police and fire departments to recover response costs for incidents created by illegal fireworks. This could easily add hundreds of dollars to the fine.
uRequires groups authorized to sell legal safe and sane fireworks at booths to produce and distribute to customers — at their cost — fireworks education flyers and anti-illegal fireworks flyers.
The proposed ordinance change also prohibits anyone under the age of 18 from entering a fireworks booth at any time. Currently children are prohibited from selling fireworks.
If the City Council approves the changes when they meet Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Civic Center and also OK a second reading at their May 17 meeting, the new rules would go into effect 45 days after the second reading or on July 1.
City law allows the sale and legal discharge of safe and sane fireworks to start seven days before July 4 on June 27. The city rules mirrors a state requirement that cities choosing to allow legal fireworks to be sold in their jurisdiction to also allow them to be discharged using the same time period they are sold
The only way for all of the provisions proposed to go into effect sooner — or when the sale of sale and sane fireworks start on June 27 — is if the changes are adopted as an emergency measure on a 4-0
How illegal fireworks
are now handled
The city’s current ordinance is virtually ineffective in putting a dent into the discharge of illegal fireworks — a year round occurrence in many Manteca neighborhoods. That’s because it requires law enforcement to witness the person firing off the illegal fireworks or for a citizen to step forward and make a “citizen’s arrest” in concert with a police officer.
City officials have noted in the past when complaining neighbors are asked to do just that by officers who arrive on the scene but don’t witness an illegal discharge, they typically decline as they don’t want to get into neighbor versus neighbor situation by having to testify in court.
Officers responding — when they don’t see who discharged the fireworks — will ask those they find at the location who did launch them. No one ever points the finger at anyone. That means the best officers can do is to seize any illegal fireworks that they see.
A growing number of cities have gone with the state allowed maximum $1,000 fine and only need to provide proof such as undercover officers videotaping illegal fireworks being shot off to tie it to a particular property.
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.
Clovis last year was able to legally document 20 instances of illegal fireworks being shot off during the Fourth of July weekend. They sent citations to the property owners along with a notice they were being fined $1,000.
Illegal fireworks typically are those that can take flight.
The council first allowed legal fireworks in Manteca in 2004. Each year, non-profits compete in a lottery for the right to sell fireworks in the week leading up to July 4. The 16 groups that are permitted to sell fireworks end up pocketing anywhere from $1,000 to $30,000 in net proceeds.
In 2014 Manteca Police seized 2,400 pounds including 2,000 pounds from one location in the Powers Tract neighborhood where an individual was selling them. Last year illegal fireworks were also seized but not in nearly as large of a quantity.
Safe and sane fireworks are a $1 billion annual business in California with roughly half the revenue collected going to non-profits.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email email@example.com