Santa Ana’s Illegal Fireworks Fines Might Increase This July 4th

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The fines for setting off illegal fireworks in Santa Ana are highly likely to increase as part of a compromise the City Council made this week after deciding against banning all fireworks sales out of concern it would impact fundraising by nonprofits.

But it is unclear whether the higher fines will be in place in time for this year’s July 4th holiday, meaning the current $100 fine would remain as is.

In addition to increasing the fine, council members want to levy a new regulatory fee on the sale of fireworks to help pay for enforcement costs. And depending on how things go this holiday, the council might even put a full fireworks ban on the November ballot for a citywide vote.

The council’s decision comes after illegal fireworks set off on last year’s Fourth of July overwhelmed the police department. In an eight-hour period, the police reported over 200 calls for services related to fireworks. At one point, Chief Carlos Rojas himself said he was forced to retreat after a group of people with illegal fireworks opened fire on his vehicle.

The police department had previously suggested a full ban on fireworks in the city, arguing that it would make it easier to enforce a blanket ban rather than trying to sort out the illegal fireworks from the legal ones while surrounded by smoke and fire.

Costs of enforcement and education of residents on safety and fireworks laws this year is expected to total $115,110, according to a city staff report.

One issue that concerns council members is that many local nonprofits use firework sales as a fundraiser. So a full ban could be harmful to nonprofits that provide critical services to the city’s already underserved population. They opted instead for the regulatory fee to pay the expected tab.

Staff had suggested the total expected bill be divided between 85 possible fireworks booths, meaning a $1,354.24 fee for each stand. But Councilman David Benavides expressed concern that would also undercut nonprofit fundraising, and suggested placing some of the cost on the fireworks industry.

Benavides said if the industry isn’t willing to share the burden – and the city can’t recover the costs of enforcement and education — then “maybe there isn’t a place for the industry in town.”

Benavides also wanted to implement the new fee in time for the upcoming holiday. But for that to happen, it would have to be adopted as an urgency ordinance at the May 17 council meeting. That, coupled with the new suggestion to levy the fee on the fireworks industry, means there probably isn’t enough time, said City Manager David Cavazos.

An increase to the illegal fireworks fine might be ready to adopt by the next council meeting, Cavazos said. He didn’t specify how much the increase would be.

Instead, city officials are taking a wait and see approach with the this year’s Fourth of July. If its as chaotic as last year – or even worse – council members have said they would consider allowing residents to vote on a blanket fireworks ban.

Councilman Vincent Sarmiento reminded his colleagues that the city had received many written requests from residents for a full ban.

“So let’s not forget about those folks either,” Sarmiento said.

Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at aelmahrek@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: @adamelmahrek