April 21, 2007

Ontario CA increases "safe and sane" posession fine to $1,000


Fireworks fine pricey
Ontario approves $1,000 penalty to streamline process

By Jason Newell, Staff Writer
Article Launched: 04/17/2007 11:36:57 PM PDT

ONTARIO - Buying, using or transporting fireworks in the city is about to become a whole lot more dangerous - for wallets, that is.

Starting next month, the city will slap a $1,000 fine on anyone caught with the devices, which are outlawed within city limits.

The City Council approved the stiff penalty Tuesday night, hoping to reverse what officials said was a surge in fireworks-related emergency calls in recent years.

"This gives us a solid tool to begin to combat these flagrant violators," Mayor Paul Leon said before joining the unanimous vote.

Like most cities in the Inland Valley, Ontario has banned the possession or use of all fireworks, even the so-called "safe and sane" variety - which don't explode or leave the ground.

Across the region, only Fontana and Chino permit the "safe and sane" types, though Fontana has agreed to ban them starting July 5, 2008.

Currently, people caught with fireworks in Ontario already face fines of up to $1,000, but the city has to go after the offenders in court.

The new policy cuts the judicial system out of the process, making it easier and less time-consuming for the city to hand out fines and collect the money.

The policy will be a stronger deterrent to what has become a growing problem in recent years, Ontario Fire Chief Chris Hughes said.

"Last year, especially, was extremely busy for us," he said.

Since the start of 2006, emergency dispatchers in Ontario have received more than 700 calls about fireworks, including more than 400 complaints in July 2006 alone.

Each time, police and firefighters have been tasked with responding to the calls, investigating, seizing any fireworks and handling any medical emergencies - at a cost of thousands of dollars to taxpayers.

Additionally, firefighters have had to extinguish about 20 brushfires caused by fireworks during the past year alone, Hughes said.

While many of the fireworks that end up in Ontario come from Nevada and Mexico, plenty of them are purchased right next door in Chino, Hughes said.

Many Ontario residents don't know that they're breaking the law when they bring fireworks from Chino into the city, he said.

"That's part of our challenge," Hughes said. "When people do go to the fireworks booths in Chino, they (need to) know that they can't bring them across the border."

As part of the changes approved Tuesday night, the city will spend about $15,000 a year on signs, banners and other materials to publicize the city's fireworks rules.

"A big part of it is education - letting people know that it is illegal in Ontario to use any fireworks," City Manager Greg Devereaux said.

The city expects the fines to offset at least a portion of the education campaign, officials said.

The changes approved Tuesday night will head back to the City Council for final approval May 1, then take effect two weeks later.

Staff writer Jason Newell can be reached by e-mail at jason.newell@dailybulletin.com, or by phone at (909) 483-9338.

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