Even With ‘Chaos’ on July 4th, Santa Ana Council Reluctant to Douse Firework Sales

Santa Ana Police Department

Illegal fireworks seized by the Santa Ana Police Department.

Illegal fireworks have always been a problem in Santa Ana around the Fourth of July. But last year, some neighborhoods resembled war zones, according to police Chief Carlos Rojas.

There were over 200 calls to police regarding fireworks complaints in an eight-hour period on the July 4th holiday, police say. Police brought in an extra 33 officers to help patrol – including Rojas — but the chief said it wasn’t enough to keep up.

At one point, Rojas said he tried to stop some people from setting off fireworks. But instead of heeding the command, they took aim at the police chief’s vehicle and opened fire. He retreated from the scene.

“It was chaos,” Rojas told the City Council at its regular Tuesday night meeting.

Figuring out a way to keep the chaos from erupting again is proving to be a challenge. Police officials say banning all fireworks – including the legal “safe and sane” variety — would make enforcement easier for officers because they won’t have to sort out the illegal from the legal while surrounded by smoke and fire.

But fireworks sales are a significant source of revenue for many of the city’s nonprofits, and council members are wary of impacting services for youth in a city already grappling with its worst gang violence in recent years.

They also expressed nostalgia about an annual American tradition. Council members recalled memories of lighting fireworks with their families around backyard barbeques, and talked about potentially losing another thread in the larger community fabric.

“We’re talking about millions of dollars we’d be taking away from the children of this community,” said Mayor Miguel Pulido. “The nonprofit issue is huge, but the families and fabric of the city is even bigger.”

Council members debated a few options at the meeting, including putting the question of a blanket ban to the voters at the November general election and taking a wait-and-see approach to how severe the problem is during this year’s holiday.

Councilman Sal Tinajero also proposed studying a regulatory fee for the legal fireworks industry to pay for increased enforcement around the holiday. Speaking to a fireworks business representative in the audience, Tinajero referred to the Spanish term “mochate,” which he said means to “cut a little slice.”

“You gotta cut a little slice to the city to continue to serve your product without hurting our quality of life,” Tinajero said.

The total cost to the city of handling the fireworks issue as it stands now is $188,590, according to a city staff report. That includes over $62,000 for police enforcement, and another expected $75,000 in toxic disposal fees levied by the city’s waste hauler, among other costs.

Councilman Vincent Sarmiento said he didn’t want to punt the issue because it gives a “false expectation to nonprofits that rely on us.” He said the city needs address the underlying problem – adequate enforcement resources – otherwise residents who want to see the ban will be angry at the nonprofits for preventing it.

“Some day somebody’s going to get hurt…” Sarmiento said.

“When a parent comes before us and says why didn’t we address it when we had the opportunity, that’s when we’re going to have to face the reality.”

Councilman David Benavides, who chairs the council’s public safety committee, asked that city staff come back with a “comprehensive plan” for education and enforcement. Pulido appointed himself and Benavides to an ad-hoc committee that’s going to work with nonprofits to find out how much revenue they earn from fireworks sales and study other strategies for dealing with the fireworks problem.

In the end, council members opted to punt the issue until after this year’s holiday and address it at their July 5th meeting, with the caveat that city staff work on Benavides’ request for a plan.

“Let’s roll up our sleeves right now, go out there and be as proactive as we can,” Pulido said.

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

  • LFOldTimer

    Well, if the 4th of July firework’s “war zone” punted on by the council sets a Santa Ana home on fire and injures or kills the occupants – there’s going to be a whole lotta questions asked at the post-holiday council meeting.
    These politicians always claim the public’s safety is their primary core responsibility as public officials ……. until it’s not.
    So there must be something else that trumps public safety.

    • UnitedWeStand

      TNT Fireworks is an affiliate member of the Association of California Cities-OC and sponsors some their events. http://www.accoc.org/about-us/members/ However, it doesn’t look like Santa Ana is a member city.

  • UnitedWeStand

    I’m really sorry to read “council members opted to punt the issue until AFTER this year’s holiday and address it at their July 5th meeting”. Isn’t public safety the most important issue of a city council? It appears the city is depending too much on their nonprofits to provide services which seems to be the case throughout good ole Orange County. The politicians throughout Orange County are responsible for the massive housing development, yet they appear to not care about the services to handle the increased population and resulting traffic. The “city staff should have had a “comprehensive plan” for education and enforcement” a very long time ago” to protect the families, their children and the pets. I’m RUSHING to my voting booth this year!!!

  • David Zenger

    Central and west Anaheim have turned into a war zone, too. Who could have foreseen people setting of “legal” fireworks in the street, and illegal rockets and bombs, too since, hey, who’s going to monitor the difference?

    Of course in Anaheim the kleptocracy, in its perpetual mercantalist mind-set has hand-chosen a distributor for (fun and) profit to see “how it works out.”

    Of course Disney dumps tons of ignited heavy metals and toxic particulate matter on its neighbors every year without challenge, so why not give everybody else a little fun for the weeks before and after the 4th.

    • UnitedWeStand

      TNT Fireworks is an affiliate member of the Association of California Cities-OC and sponsors some their events. http://www.accoc.org/about-us Anaheim is a member city.

      • David Zenger

        And I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to learn they had hired the “services” of a well-known lobbyist.

        But in Anaheim there was an agreement with the underprivileged folks who run the Honda Center to be the middlemen – at a nice profit.

    • UnitedWeStand

      David, I have to take exception to your comment about Disney. Disneyland is the only decent thing in grand ole Orange County. It brings a lot of enjoyment to a lot of people and especially children. And I do not fault them for their “campaign contributions” . Its the greedy politicians who have their hands out. It’s disgusting and detrimental to our democracy.

      • Philmore

        Take all the “exceptions” you want, they have little value. The mindset that pillories recipients but ignores corrupting contributors is JUST as “disgusting and detrimental to our democracy”. Like both ends of that transaction AND the happy children and customers, crappy air quality and crappy government are HARDLY a concern to those who sleep ELSEWHERE at night.

        • UnitedWeStand

          Dear Philmore, .

          We teach our children to say NO to drugs. The politicians should say NO to campaign contributions !!!!!! Its real simple.

          I am very concerned the crappy air quality may unfortunately increase in California due to the fact that Republican Dwight Robinson was just voted onto the SCAQMD and tilted the scales to the Republican party which like would to turn California into another Texas which has the worst air pollution and water pollution in the U.S.

          In 2014, there were approximately 17 million registered voters in California, but approximately 7 million voted. I hope the people who take the time to complain here, take the time to vote.

  • LFOldTimer

    Must have been lots of campaign contributions changing hands.

    Money trumps public safety.

    • Jacki Livingston

      Precisely. The injuries, damage and death caused by these things is massive, and totally meaningless to the powers that be.