Citing the disruption illegal fireworks cause in the lives of Santa Maria residents, alongside the impact on noise-sensitive pets, community members requested the city have more restrictions on the use of fireworks during a community meeting Thursday.
Held at the Mussell Senior Center, the meeting — which drew around 25 people — was called to provide the City Council with public input as the city weighs whether or not to change the local fireworks ordinance.
In Santa Maria, the only time “safe and sane” fireworks — meaning those that do not explode or fly — may be used within the city limits is a 12-hour period on the Fourth of July from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. The penalty for using fireworks outside of the designated period is $1,000.
To help curb the use of fireworks outside that period, the city organized an educational campaign that included messaging on social media, movie theaters, posters, city buses, local and cable TV, posters, fliers and newspapers. The city also made yard signs with wire stakes reading “Celebrate July 4th Neighborly, Noise Sensitive Resident Lives Here, Be Courteous to Your Neighbors” available for free to community members, and set up a hotline to take reports of illegal fireworks use.
One community member suggested the 12-hour window when fireworks are allowed was too long.
“That’s 12 hours,” she said. “Why not 9 to 11 p.m. or something more reasonable?”
Another community member suggested that law enforcement keep a log of all reports of illegal fireworks to determine the problematic addresses.
Noting the large amount of resources needed for police to patrol for illegal fireworks, one community member suggested that a group of volunteers be trained to do the patrolling on behalf of Santa Maria Police.
“What we need is free labor,” he said.
Edwin Weaver, executive director of Fighting Back Santa Maria Valley, asked that people not lump illegal fireworks in with the “safe and sane” products, and noted that many nonprofits rely on fireworks sales to fund operations.
“A lot of nonprofits here do need the fundraising to exist,” he said. “We raise money every year through 'safe and sane,' and I don’t mean to be contrary to the opinion of the group but I like fireworks [and] my family does. We do them once a year between the hours of 11 a.m. and 11 p.m. We try to be respectful.”
Matt Tajon, of New Beginnings Church, said his group also relied on fireworks sales to fund its work.
“I’m not negating the fact that illegal fireworks are not good for the community,” Tajon said. “I have a small dog as well and I know a few people that have skittish children. I have some friends that were in the Army and they have PTSD as well. So I understand that side of things and do agree there should be restrictions on the illegal fireworks. The 'safe and sane' [fireworks], though, do help us quite a bit. We’re able to not only help the members of our congregation but do community outreach.”
Fire Chief Leonard Champion said he understood the issues residents were facing.
“I’ve been to council meetings. I’ve heard the concerns and the frustrations,” he said. “This is not an easy thing to deal with and we’re not the only community.”
Champion said focused enforcement seemed the best solution to the issue in the face of limited resources: “I think with the idea of the log tracking where those problem addresses are — those recurring locations — is probably the best solution for limited staff.”
Santa Maria Police Cmdr. Dan Cohen said that while enforcement was important, education would be more effective in reducing the use of illegal fireworks.
“The reality is you get more compliance through education,” he said. “If people realize how they’re affecting others — most of the people that live in our community are good people and they’re going to curb their activity.”