Local News

Debating the Costs and Benefits of Allowing Legal Fireworks

Fire Marshal Kathy Schaefer gave a report on fireworks-related calls and incidents for this year’s Fourth of July at the September 17 Fullerton City Council Meeting.

The Fullerton Fire Department reported two incidents related to fireworks on July 4. One event involved a fire in a palm tree started by fireworks and the second situation involved smoldering fireworks on a curbside. The Fire Department extinguished both fires without further incident. The Fire Department also reported collecting approximately 40 pounds of illegal fireworks over the Fourth of July holiday period.

The Fullerton Police Department reported receiving 265 fireworks related calls between 12:00 a.m. July 1 through 3:00 a.m. on July 5. This is the lowest number of calls received since 2013.

The following table shows the fireworks related calls since 2013:

Fire Marshall Schaefer said that the overwhelming majority of comments on the Fire Department’s social media posts expressed frustration over the use of fireworks prior to and on the 4th. Residents compared it to a “war zone” here in Fullerton. They cited the loud noise, animals being scared by fireworks, and how it was a generally unsafe atmosphere for our city. She contrasted this with Brea [where fireworks are illegal], where there were no calls for fireworks-related services.

“Statistically speaking, if a city allow fireworks, there will be more injuries, more calls for service, and more fires—in the brush, wild lands, and structures,” Schaefer said.

In 2012, voters of Fullerton approved Measure X to allow the use of “safe and sane” fireworks within City Limits.

15 local non-profit groups are selected each year to operate fireworks sales booths as a fundraising effort.

Public Safety receives a significant increase in calls complaining about illegal fireworks activity in the weeks leading up to and on the Fourth of July and City Council often receives citizen requests to make fireworks sales in Fullerton illegal, believing that this will reduce the amount of illegal fireworks activity.

During the July 16 City Council meeting, Council Member Flory requested, supported by Mayor Silva, to receive a report from public safety regarding fireworks complaints and activity around the Fourth of July holiday and discuss a potential ballot measure to make sales and discharge of safe and sane fireworks illegal in Fullerton.

Should City Council chose to proceed with the ballot measure, the estimated cost to place one measure on the March 2020 ballot is between $209,903 and $247,750. The cost to place a measure on the November 2020 ballot is $8,500 in addition to the costs of the November 2020 General Municipal Election.

After the presentation, council members and residents gave arguments on both sides of the issue. Representatives of various non-profits who do fundraising through fireworks sales spoke in favor of keeping fireworks sales legal in Fullerton.

Kenneth Robertson said that the fundraising allows his group to provide quinceneras for 25 girls, provide money for kids to go to youth camp, plus a backpack giveaway that allows 360 kids to get backpacks.

Elizabeth Barr, who represents Fullerton Pop Warner (youth football), said “The money that we raise with these fireworks stands directly goes to our kids, the community, education. It goes where the government is lacking in funds.”

“The booth has allowed us to raise $60,000. This is our Foundation’s biggest fundraiser for the school year,” said Cindy Lee, speaking on behalf of Sunset Lane Education Foundation. “The issue is not the safe and sane fireworks, but rather the use of illegal fireworks.”

Councilmember Whitaker echoed this idea that the problem is illegal fireworks, not the “safe and sane” fireworks sold in the booths.

“I think we continue to take aim at the wrong side of the equation,” Whitaker said. “It’s the lawbreakers with the illegal fireworks that’s really where the attention needs to go.”

Mayor Protem Fitzgerald also defended the sale of “safe and sane” fireworks, even suggesting that Fullerton expand the number of days that fireworks may be sold, to compete with cities like Anaheim.

“I love fireworks. To me fireworks are pretty synonymous with freedom,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m confident that I’m not the only one in town who feels the same…I love that this industry is built around helping the communities.”

Councilmember Flory made the argument against allowing fireworks sales in Fullerton.

“The best [fireworks] show in the county is at the Fullerton high School Stadium, and that is a place where we can celebrate our patriotism,” Flory said. “In my opinion, ‘safe and sane’ fireworks are a cover for illegal fireworks.”

Flory also expressed concern over the potential for fires caused by fireworks, especially given the rise of wildfires in California.

“There are other ways to raise funds than by selling fireworks,” Flory said.

Jane Rands argued that the legal fireworks allow the masking of the illegal fireworks. She said she has seen a notable change in her neighborhood once the fireworks became legal.

“In my neighborhood, there were zero illegal fireworks before the legal ones came along,” Rands said. “Now that we’ve had this “trial period” I ask you put it back on the ballot, now that people really know the true impact of their decision. People are fearful of losing their homes every 4th of July and the days after.”

Diane Vena said, “There’s a big cost to fireworks…For weeks after [the 4th] I walk my dog and it’s the ‘safe and sane’ stuff on sidewalks and in the street, that end up down in the gutter, and in the ocean…I just ask that you put it back on the ballot and let voters choose again.”

Jose Trindad Castaneda said that he loves the fireworks show at the high school, where it’s safe and there’s no harm to anyone.

“But then when I go home, I am fearful. People have both legal and illegal, and you can’t enforce/discern/regulate between the two. Fireworks create particulate matter that negatively affects air quality and hurts children with respiratory illnesses like asthma,” Castaneda said.

Mayor Silva and Councilmember Zahra suggested bringing the item back to see if the city can improve its fireworks enforcement.

Ultimately, council voted 4-1 (Whitaker “no”) to “receive and file” the staff report and to bring the item back to see if the city can improve its enforcement, and re-visit the ballot measure next summer.

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3 replies »

  1. Also, the police are not enforcing the – “Use allowed only on July 4th between the hours of 10am and 10pm.” A retired police officer told me it is really difficult. Unless they see someone right in front of them lighting off fireworks in the middle of the day before or after July 4th, then they aren’t going to do anything.

  2. I would say if this is put back on the ballot, the people would vote no on fireworks. It seems like the benefit of a few comes at the cost of many. If it were just one night that would be one thing, but every night for a couple months before the 4th the nights are not peaceful. My dog goes nuts and the fireworks themselves are very unsettling when you’re trying to relax. A police officer came to my house the other night and said there were gun shots fired behind my house. I told him I thought they were fireworks. I can’t even tell the difference.

  3. I liked that you said that selling fireworks is a good way to fundraise. I have been trying to find ways to raise money for my son’s soccer team but haven’t been sure how to. I will consider selling fireworks to raise money.