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Santa Maria City Council OKs New Fireworks Restrictions

Revised rules will limit legal use of 'safe and sane' fireworks to a 12-hour period on July 4

Debbie Warren, one of the leaders of the effort to combat illegal fireworks in Santa Maria, speaks to the Santa Maria City Council on Tuesday night while other leaders stand behind her.
Debbie Warren, one of the leaders of the effort to combat illegal fireworks in Santa Maria, speaks to the Santa Maria City Council on Tuesday night while other leaders stand behind her. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Legal use of "safe and sane" fireworks in the city of Santa Maria will be restricted to 12 hours on July 4, one of several measures approved Tuesday night by the City Council.

The new rules are aimed at stemming the epidemic of illegal fireworks used in the city, especially in the weeks before and after July 4, startling people’s pets, war veterans and autistic people.

A changed municipal code, enhanced enforcement and increased public education are the three strategies crafted to stop the rampant use of illegal fireworks, those that are airborne and extremely loud, City Manger Rick Haydon told the council.

Other aspects of the new regulations will allow residents to ask for the issuance of administrative citations, permit the storage of 'safe and sane' fireworks at booths after business hours, and boost the permit fee to operate a fireworks booth from $183 to $500.

The proposal came after a grassroots group of pet owners showed up at several meetings and implored the council to try to stem the use of illegal fireworks, leading to an Oct. 26 meeting with city staff.

“We were definitely impressed by their effort, the time and the plan that they have come up with,” said Debbie Warren, one of the members of a Facebook group seeking zero tolerance of illegal fireworks. 

“We do look forward to trying to get a handle on the fireworks issue,” Warren said, emphasizing the group’s members are not seeking to ban 'safe and sane' fireworks. 

Haydon noted the state fire marshal over the last two years has curtailed enforcement at the borders, where people typically have been arrested for trying to bring illegal fireworks into California from states where they are deemed legal.

“Because of that, illegal fireworks use has been up,” Haydon said. “It’s been up not only in the city of Santa Maria, on the Central Coast, but throughout the state of California."

His colleagues around the state have called the last fireworks season the worst one they have seen in California, Haydon added.

The plan calls for conducting sting operations well before July 4 to nab those selling illegal fireworks.

“It’s no secret that illegal fireworks are being sold and advertised via Craigslist, so the thought would be to follow up on those advertisements and do some sting operations and then confiscate those fireworks," Haydon said.

One of the key tools, Haydon said, is an administrative citation issued by a city employee. Hayden likened the citation to a citizen’s arrest with a $1,000 fine. This is necessary since police can’t cite someone unless the officer sees the person using illegal fireworks. 

Santa Maria is one of the three North County cities to allow the sale of state-certified 'safe and sane' fireworks for a week around Fourth of July. 

Previously, the city allowed the use of those fireworks anytime during the seven-day sales period. 

However, the new rules will restrict 'safe and sane' fireworks from being used except between 11 a.m. and 11 p.m. July 4.

Sales of the 'safe and sane' fireworks, once allowed until noon July 5, also will end at 11 p.m. July 4, the council decided.

Anyone caught using any fireworks at a time other than the 12-hour period would be subject to the $1,000 fine, city officials said.

Another new regulation will allow the city to recover its costs related to the storage, handling and transportation of seized illegal fireworks, and also fund their disposal by the state fire marshal. 

"We'll be sending invoices to people, in addition to the citations, for our actual costs incurred," said Assistant City Attorney Phil Sinco. "We would do that in addition to the administrative citations for violators, so this could be a very expensive proposition for some individuals who use illegal fireworks."

This year, nonprofit organizations received permits to sell 'safe and sane' fireworks at 25 booths, but the costs to respond to improper disposal and clean up of city parks amounted to $12,800, the staff report said,

Revenue from the permits issued in 2015 only added up to $4,575, Haydon said. The new public education program will cost $3,375.

Santa Maria’s fee for groups permitted to sell fireworks falls well below neighboring cities, Haydon said, adding some in southern San Luis Obispo County charged approximately $600 while Lompoc’s rate based on sales runs about $1,200.

Permit holders were advised of the pending change, Haydon said. None spoke up Tuesday night.

The council unanimously supported changes to the municipal code, including fireworks restrictions.

However, the proposal to hike the fee for nonprofit groups selling safe and sane fireworks passed on a 3-2 vote, with any future increase limited to the Consumer Price Index. 

Mayor Alice Patino and Councilwoman Etta Waterfield voted against the proposed hike for permits. 

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Fees for nonprofit groups selling ‘safe and sane’ fireworks in Santa Maria are increasing from $183 to $500. Click to view larger
Fees for nonprofit groups selling ‘safe and sane’ fireworks in Santa Maria are increasing from $183 to $500. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk file photo)
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