Any community’s efforts to control the use of fireworks on the 4th of July has been a lot like trying to herd cats. Mission impossible.
But that has not stopped many communities from continuing to try, which is what may happen this evening during the Santa Maria City Council meeting when a new fireworks-use ordinance is considered.
The city already has some strict rules, including a safe-and-sane sales requirement. But the ordinance being considered tonight would include a revised “responsible social host” provision, tighten up on rules for third-party citations, and declare setting off illegal fireworks to be a public nuisance that could be punished with either a misdemeanor or administrative citation.
The proposal stems from two community meetings held last year at which several dozen residents made the case for clamping down on the use of illegal fireworks.
Among the points made at both those sessions is that exploding fireworks in residential neighborhoods scare the dickens out of a lot of household pets, and have potentially a worse effect on people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. A string of small firecrackers going off in rapid succession and the louder booms of aerial bombs are very much like the sounds soldiers must endure on a battlefield.
Another compelling argument against loud fireworks on July 4 is that the holiday occurs at one of the worst times of the year for wildfires, which have plagued California in recent years.
This new ordinance with the responsible social host provision allows authorities to hold homeowners liable for the illegal use of fireworks on their property, similar to the social component involved in liability when adults let children party at their homes with alcoholic beverages.
There are a lot of valid reasons why the use of fireworks should be left to pyrotechnic pros, just as there are some very strong arguments to allow the use of fireworks, the most compelling of which is that fireworks on the 4th are an American tradition.
Still, over the years communities have gotten tougher on the illegal use of fireworks, especially in residential areas. And the public’s attitudes about fireworks on the 4th have changed over the years, partly due to the wildfire potential. If July has been really dry, communities often cancel scheduled public fireworks displays.
Santa Maria has an ordinance on the books that does much of what this latest proposal would do, but the new law would have stronger teeth — and city officials say the stricter rules will be enforced.
One of the changes would involve citizens who witness illegal fireworks use contacting the city to have an administrative citation issued. Only the witness would need visual evidence and be willing to sign a complaint.
That could be a problem. Many people are reluctant to get involved, and unwilling to actively trigger hostilities in their neighborhood.
Police Chief Phil Hanson admitted last July that so-called third-party citations — when a private citizen blows the whistle on another private citizen’s transgressions — are very rare, likely a function of the neighbor-vs-neighbor situation that often occurs after someone tells on someone else.
As effective as such a policy may turn out to be, these sorts of restrictions will always be in conflict with tradition.
It comes down to a matter of personal responsibility, adults behaving as adults are expected to behave, and not doing things that will offend or violate the rights of neighbors, or put them in physical danger.
In that regard, the Golden Rule would seem to come into play.