Fireworks are illegal in all of Contra Costa County, but enforcing that law is not always easy.That’s why the city of Oakley this week decided to put some teeth into its fireworks ordinance, steeply increasing fines and holding “social hosts” of such incidents accountable.
Attorney Derek Cole said that although in past years the city has conducted outreach campaigns to make residents aware of the rules, Oakley still has had issues with people shooting off fireworks in residential neighborhoods.
“It’s really, really hard to enforce, because unless you actually see someone light the fireworks and set it off, you can’t really cite them,” he said. “And if they’re not the property owner, you really can’t just walk up and give them the ticket.”
Some cities, instead, have turned to a “social concept” approach, which Cole said has resulted in better compliance.
“They (police) can reasonably determine where fireworks came from, you can reasonably pinpoint the house where it came from, and oftentimes you can see people gathered outside the house and you see the charred wreckage, or retard remains or the fireworks,” he said. “And so, if they cite the property owner, or they cite the resident or they cite the lawful occupant, and they hit him with a pretty hard fine — $1,000 — they have found that that will over time achieve compliance.”
The city’s current fines amount of $100 for first violations, $250 for second violations, and $500 for third and additional violations, and the new ordinance raises those to $1,000 for the first offense.
“If we do that (increase the fines), we are not changing any of the due process protections that people have, so there still will be the right to request a hearing (to fight the citation),” Cole said.
Oakley Police Chief Dean Dean Capelletti told the council his department supports the urgency ordinance, which would go into effect immediately.
“I’m not here to tell you that it’s going to eliminate fireworks in the city — the reality is we cannot address all the fireworks that will be happening,” he said. “But as happened here last year — and is not unique to our city — fireworks were just going off all over the place right.”
Not only are there safety concerns with fireworks starting fires, but pets are affected as well, the chief said.
“So what this does is this gives us a tool as a police department to address those egregious people that we’ve already warned, we’ve already given them a chance and we’ve told them, ‘you need to stop this,’ those that are letting off illegal fireworks, not just the safe and sane.”
The chief said police will try to educate residents first, announcing the rules on social media, so that everyone is aware this is a new ordinance. That includes a list of 72 prior offenders the city has identified who will be warned of the new rules, he said.
Councilwoman Anissa Williams asked if police would be out looking for offenders or take a more reactive approach police answering calls on them.
The chief said police would do both but that he was working on an action plan for the three-day weekend. Police would also work with code enforcement to cite violators after the fact in some cases.
“I don’t think this is a July Fourth issue,” Councilman Aaron Meadows said, noting it happens on any day.
Though Meadows said he doesn’t have a problem with the ordinance, as a landlord, he was concerned about possibly being cited by something the tenant did.
But Cole said the language of the ordinance would not affect the landlord if he did not possess, store, sell or discharge the fireworks.
Vice Mayor Randy Pope meanwhile said he liked “the idea of making it easier for the police officers.”“I love the idea that you don’t have to chase down the person who’s holding the match lighting the fireworks because the police car turns the corner they always disappear,” he said. “So, being able to this social host idea really appeals to me.”
Pope also approved of the $1,000 fine for dangerous fireworks but said the ordinance should not include items like sparklers and party poppers.
“I don’t want our police officers going out and taking sparklers from kids,” he said.
Councilman George Fuller responded that he trusted police officers’ judgment in citing violators with dangerous fireworks.
The councilman then motioned to approve the ordinance, which passed 4-1 with Pope voting against.
Contra Costa County this week similarly strengthened its rules, strengthening regulations of the possession, manufacture, sale, use and discharge of illegal fireworks in the unincorporated areas and holding landlords responsible for such violations on their property or vessel. A violation is subject to a first-time fine of $100, a second-time fine $200 and a $500 fine for each additional violation of the ordinance within one year.
Brentwood’s fireworks fines meanwhile range from $130 to $1,300, while both Antioch and Pittsburg are expected to look at the issue in upcoming council meetings.
Pittsburg Police Chief Brian Addington the city’s current range from $100 for the first offense to $500 for the third offense.
“We will have extra officers patrolling our city looking for violations,” he said. “On the Fourth of July we will have a team of officers looking for violations.”
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