As we approach Independence Day, North County residents should consider restoring an old American tradition — permitting the sale and use of safe and sane fireworks for fun and family entertainment.
“Safe and sane” refers to fireworks that do not explode or fly; it does not include firecrackers, bottle rockets, roman candles or any explosive, airborne projectiles.
Think sparklers, smoke balls, snakes and snaps. They’ve been permitted under state law since the 1950s, and it is left to individual municipalities to determine how they’re regulated. Today, nearly 300 cities and unincorporated communities in California permit the sale and discharge of safe and sane fireworks during the 4th of July season, including 10 cities in Orange County.
One of the most recent O.C. cities to approve fireworks, Anaheim, did so by a public vote in 2014, with 2015 as the pilot year for the program. The ballot measure approved by voters gave the City Council the power to regulate fireworks — and the framework they subsequently developed was stringent. They designated limited times and days for fireworks sales and discharge, and stiffened penalties and fines for the possession and use of illegal fireworks and violations of the use of safe and sane fireworks. Fireworks were prohibited from parks, parking lots, residential streets and within the fire-prone Anaheim Hills community. Sales were coordinated through one central retail location and vendor.
One of the main arguments in favor of legalizing safe and sane fireworks in Anaheim was that community nonprofits and charitable organizations could receive a portion of the sale proceeds.
In all, $85,200 in proceeds went to support community nonprofits and programs last year, with 53 community groups receiving proceeds. Other cities have generated far more revenue through fireworks sales; for example, Huntington Beach raised more than $700,000 for community nonprofit groups over a two-year pilot program earlier this decade.
Public safety-wise, Anaheim’s pilot program was a success; the 2015 Fireworks After Action Report noted that no fireworks-related fires or injuries were reported in Anaheim on 4th of July that year. The city ordinance was updated for 2017 to allow 16 different fireworks stands in the city, all operated by nonprofit organizations.
Allowing North County residents to purchase and use safe and sane fireworks, with restrictions, is both reasonable and manageable. Community groups could benefit from sale proceeds, and elected officials could make regulatory adjustments based on a one- or two-year pilot program.
If a repeal of the ban on safe and sane fireworks reached the ballot, I think most North County voters would vote yes. Fireworks ballot measures have won strong majorities across the state, reversing bans that have been on the books for decades.
In all, more than 1.5 million Orange County residents have the freedom to purchase and discharge safe and sane fireworks this 4th of July. Why not North County?
Vince Vasquez is a data analyst based in Torrey Pines. He is a Carlsbad resident.