On March 16 the Lompoc City Council agreed to make some changes to the fireworks ordinance that may help with enforcement of the policy and silence the booms associated with illegal fireworks. Previously, the wording in the ordinance was ambiguous and almost unenforceable.

Over the years there have been hundreds of complaints annually concerning the weekly illegal discharge of fireworks that explode or fly through the air.

Recently, you may have seen a news report about a large explosion and fire in an Ontario, California, neighborhood that resulted from the storage and use of illegal fireworks (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LzHjEoBcapo). This clearly demonstrates why Lompoc needs to get a handle on this problem before a similar situation occurs here.

The ordinance specifies that it is unlawful to “Ignite, discharge, project or otherwise fire or use any safe and sane fireworks, except during the hours of 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. on the 4th of July.” Any firework that explodes or flies in the air is not categorized as a “safe and sane” firework and is unlawful any time in the city.

Based on previous input from the City Council, the city attorney came up with some proactive solutions to identifying and prosecuting violators. Previously, only the person lighting the firework could be cited if an officer observed the violation.

Now the ordinance will state that the city can “cite a property owner or, if the property is leased, the tenant, for any fireworks violation on the property, regardless of whether the violation was actually committed by the owner or tenant.”

But the changes allow “an exception if the person in control of the property, whether the owner or the tenant, immediately reports the illegal activity to the Lompoc Police Department or Lompoc Fire Department.” This would be particularly helpful in the case of apartment complexes.

In multi-unit housing complexes, either the code enforcement officer, property manager or a resident must see and be able to identify the violator igniting fireworks in the common areas since no one is in control of those gathering places.

It also increased the severity of the violation to that of a misdemeanor, which means that in some cases the matter will be placed before a judge rather than simply an administrative hearing or small claims court. It also allows for the recovery of attorney fees if the case goes to court hearing.

In the past, only the person cited would know that he or she had violated the law; now the city will notify the property owner if one of their tenants is cited for a fireworks violation.

The penalty for violation of this ordinance is serious: “Any person violating any provision of this Chapter shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction thereof shall be punished by imprisonment in the county jail for a period not exceeding six months, or a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars, or by both such imprisonment and fine.”

As a side note, when safe and sane fireworks sales were first approved local nonprofits had visions of earning large amounts to fund their goals. But it seems that interest by these groups has waned as they found out they were being exploited by the large distributors.

It takes several people and lots of work to operate these stands and the return on the time invested is minimal. For example, this year there are only two nonprofits that applied for permits; six permits, the total authorized, were issued in years past after a competitive lottery.

Some council members were concerned that these changes weren’t “going to fix or stop the illegal use of fireworks.” Councilman Victor Vega noted there is no “perfect solution” to this problem, but this was a good start.

Vega was right, from my perspective a stop sign, and the penalty for failing to come to a full stop won’t make people stop, only personal responsibility will, and that’s the point of most laws like the amended fireworks ordinance.

There wasn’t much discussion of the changes; all seemed to agree, and it passed quickly on a 5-0 vote. Next will be the second reading (making it official); then we’ll have to wait and see if it helps stop the booms.

— Ron Fink, a Lompoc resident since 1975, is retired from the aerospace industry. He has been following Lompoc politics since 1992, and after serving 23 years appointed to various Lompoc commissions retired from public service. The opinions expressed are his own.