October 3, 2007

The big snow (or fire) job

LAAG feels sorry for the city of Pacifica. If they are anything like Lakewood they don't stand a chance against the "smoke and fire" [our phrase for "safe and sane"] peddlers. The vast PR machine of the fireworks industry has lots of money and people as this is a very profitable industry. Sort of like the pharmaceutical industry lobby. The smoke and fire peddlers basically have taken over the state fire Marshall's office.

Our LAAG site is replete with statistics from the fire dept themselves showing that cities that allow "legal" fireworks have a greater problem with illegal firework damage and likely, illegal use. This is likely due to legal fireworks creating a "permissive" environment for other mayhem and illegal firework use and also creating a one upsmanship situation ("our illegal fireworks are better than your legal ones). The legal fireworks also help to mask illegal use. And of course there is always "illegal" use of "legal" fireworks (ie modifying them so they explode or shoot in the air) This is the way legal fireworks start fires.

The marketing guru for one of the smoke and fire peddlers notes that the problem with firework use has gotten worse in the last 10 years. That is likely due to the fact that sports clubs and fraternal benefit societies have now become addicted to selling smoke and fire and that the problem has become acute in the last 10 years as the fireworks companies see linking with these organizations as a way to entrench themselves and use the clubs fund raising mantra as impenetrable political cover. It really is like getting addicted to selling drugs. The money is great and the clubs are conned into the notion that there is nothing else out there that can compete fundraising wise. These organizations have been drawn into the same trap as the medical marijuana "clinics". Yeah were selling pot to help sick people. Right. Well at least 5% of their customers are sick.

The smoke and fire peddlers have burrowed into Sacramento politics like termites and tried to stir up some watered down increased penalty legislation which again is just political cover. The penalties are not the issue. The cases never get to the penalty stage as enforcement is impossible. Deterrence is based on the likelihood of getting caught and the likelihood of getting convicted. And right now those percentages benefit the offenders due to the nature of the laws and difficulty of enforcement. Law enforcement benefits from all this increased enforcement with hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on overtime. What is so ironic is that the the money spent on over time is likely greater than the small percentage of money the clubs make on the fireworks that cause the overtime. The city would be better off pay the overtime money to the clubs.

Putting a cap on an explosive problem
City seeking strict fireworks sanctions
By Elaine Larsen
Article Launched: 10/03/2007 01:21:20 PM PDT

It's an explosive problem in Pacifica to be sure -- putting a cap on the illegal bottle rockets and M-80s that cause mayhem in neighborhoods, yet not penalize those who enjoy safe and sane fireworks that are a tradition and help fund programs for thousands of kids.

Such has been the conundrum of Pacifica officials for several decades and the issue has been before the community in at least two public votes.

"Pacifica is not alone in this problem," Dennis Revell, president of Revell Communication which represents the safe and sane supplier [what a cute phrase], TNT Fireworks, told the council last month. "This has been a growing problem in communities throughout California for the last 10 years."

But more productive — and perhaps permanent — solutions might well be in the offing.

Senate Bill 839, which is headed to the governor's desk for signature, would throw more manpower and resources [resources is "Sacramento speak" for tax dollars; laag editor] toward stopping suppliers of illegal fireworks from bringing them over the border into California or selling them on the Internet in the first place.

It would also put more teeth in local law enforcement efforts to curtail illegal fireworks, giving them the authority to impose stiffer fines on violators and giving them a way to dispose of the confiscated pyrotechnics safely. [no problem here as the cops can take them home to their kids; laag editor]

And if Pacifica Police Chief Jim Saunders has his way, the San Mateo County District Attorney will declare illegal fireworks a felony. That would mean that violators who insist on shooting off fireworks that have the explosive power of dynamite would not just walk away with a citation as they do now, but face being booked into county jail. [really this is already the law and felony prosecutions will mean even less likelihood of enforcement; laag editor]

These and other potential solutions were tossed around at a recent Pacifica City Council meeting, setting the stage for the council s eventual decision to put together a special task force to further study the problem and make recommendations. [oh and by all means invite the fireworks sellers to propose a "solution" what a joke; laag editor]

"I'm quite concerned about the fourth of July being on a Friday next year," said Saunders, who appeared before council discussing the fireworks once before, a discussion that was publicized in the Tribune.

The matter was postponed for council discussion so all members could be present. Since the local newspaper publicity, Saunders said he heard even more troubling stories from residents.

Saunders official report about this past July 4 described a night of chaos. A night where police were run ragged trying to track down illegal fireworks shooters who took refuge in the cover of darkness, smoke or neighborhood spotters who warned them when cops were on the way. [what did we just say about enforcement?; laag editor] In a few areas it got so bad officers had to be taken off the street to stand watch over unruly neighborhoods where drunk residents got into fights.

"Being on a Friday could be good or bad. People could leave town or even more folks could pile in. We're going to hope for the best and prepare for the worst," Saunders said, nothing the problem doesn't seem to be going away despite years of public education programs. He said added patrols at beaches focused on out-of-town violators seems to have just driven the problem into the neighborhoods.

Which means the enemy is us.

"Pacifica is out of control," agreed Deborah Jones of Montezuma Avenue in Linda Mar, among the citizens who spoke before Council Sept. 10 urging further sanctions be taken. "Many residents are both distraught over the pyrotechnic barrage and resigned that nothing can be done. But we must not allow others to hold us hostage to reckless and unlawful behavior. Other cities have this problem but it is not on the same scale." [wrong; laag editor]

Because Pacifica has such a liberal stance on fireworks, many Pacifica residents think they have implicit permission to shoot off illegal fireworks, she said.

Council listened both to speakers who are unhappy about illegal fireworks and many others who do not want to see "bad apples" force the council ban safe and sane fireworks which, admittedly, funnels thousands of dollars into the coffers of well-deserved youth and booster organizations benefiting literally thousands of children. [ahh the children; hey if they burn their fingers off at least the get new uniforms; laag editor]

To demonstrate just how much money is earned in just one short week of parental involvement in staffing the booths, one fireworks booth representative presented the council with a check for $33,000 to cover the city's police and fire overtime costs for this past July holiday sales. [well not in Lakewood., we'd like to see how long this lasts; conflict of interest? cops making OT of fireworks?; laag editor] That money is collected as the result of an 8 percent surcharge the city imposed on the 15 permitted booths.

Several speakers spoke about the numerous benefits of the safe and sane sales and even pointed out research involving the city of Fremont they say demonstrates that banning them not only had no effect on the illegal fireworks problem, [back that up with statistics please; laag editor] but also meant no fee income to the municipality for dealing with the problem.

"I am confident that if there wasn't so much good that comes of the sale of safe and sane fireworks we wouldn't have them. We're not considering a ban on the legal fireworks at this time," said Councilmember Cal Hinton, himself a former Pacifica fire chief and licensed pyrotechnics expert. [again is this not a conflict?; laag editor]

He and other council members agreed that the real solution to curtailing illegal fireworks is to stop them from being sold in the state in the first place, which would require both state and federal legislative intervention. [heresy; laag editor]

Hinton said he reread the Senate bill several times and believes it has real promise of helping solve the problem. [dream on; facts please? statistics?; laag editor]

"If a person is convicted, the judge cannot impose just probation or suspend a sentence" under terms of the bill, Hinton said. "That means if you're found guilty, you're had. The best way to stop illegal fireworks is at the state level. [with the smoke and fire peddlers army of lobbyist fat chance; laag editor] And we also need the support of the federal government. We need to stop the sales at the source," he said.

Pacifica and San Bruno are the only two remaining cities in San Mateo County that allow the sale of safe and sane fireworks. The California cities of Palmdale and Chino dealt with their problem of illegal fireworks violators by imposing strict fines, up to $10,000.

Other potential solutions that came up were appointing citizen monitors at block parties and letting police into neighbors backyards to help view and single out the offenders who normally hide in the dark away from scrutiny.

Several safe and sane proponents said they'd be more than happy to invite police officers into their homes and backyards to get a better on-view look at violators.

Outspoken Linda Mar resident Deborah Jones, who said flying pyrotechnics shot into her yard narrowly missed her children, said she'd go so far as to videotape violators in her neighborhood, post signs warning people that neighbors were cooperating with the police or form citizen "evidence gathering" coalitions. It was also suggested the city put stricter regulations into block parties, requiring a "monitor" for illegal fireworks who would be held accountable, for example.

"A lot of money may be made, but was is the cost of the loss of an eye or a limb," Jones and others said.

Bernie Sifry suggested a compromise. He suggested the city of Pacifica ban fireworks in residential neighborhoods and confine the use of safe and sane to the city owned portion of Pacifica State Beach in Linda Mar.

He said that way police could control fireworks use and confiscate illegal pyrotechnics.

"How do you control it? Take it out of residential neighborhoods where it's impossible to enforce. [not a bad idea; laag editor] It s dark and officers get fireworks thrown at them. It's a dangerous situation," he said.

"This would mean better control, less litter and noise. And residents could make citizen arrests with officers making out the complaints. This would be a civic duty. Residents would know who the violators were and testify against their neighbors," Sifry said. [that is not going to happen folks; sort of like a do it yourself police force? Then what do we need the cops on OT for?; laag editor]

Lynn Adams, president of the Pacifica Beach Coalition, politely noted that fireworks debris is not healthy for the marine environment. However, even as it stands, legal fireworks are already allowed to be set off at the local state beach. And in fact, although police post officers at all local beaches, Linda Mar is the most preferred so much so it has often been referred to as a "war zone."

Nonprofit groups not only pay the city a surcharge for overtime costs, [Hey Lakewood city council are you reading this?; laag editor] but are also commissioned to provide volunteer cleanup crews the next day, most particularly the popular beach in Linda Mar.

"I want to thank the public for all their suggestions. People are thinking about this and trying to solve this dilemma," said Councilmember Julie Lancelle. "I think we should consider as many of these ideas as possible in some kind of combination so we can begin to work on this problem."

Mayor Pro Tem Jim Vreeland noted that just as community groups came together last year to find an equitable annual distribution of the limited number of permits which was an issue at the time, they are now trying to find a solution to the illegal fireworks problem which he commended.

He suggested that the council set up a task force that include the city's two North County Fire Authority liaisons, Hinton and Sue Digre, as well as citizens to study the potential solutions and make recommendations to the council by Jan. 1 -- a good six months before the next July 4 holiday.

"I'm hoping that the passion we saw here tonight could be channeled into the task force to find solutions. We're certainly starting early enough," Vreeland said.

The council voted unanimously for a future agenda item, perhaps Oct. 10, for formation of a task force. Council also directed staff to write letters of support for increased sanctions for illegal fireworks to state and federal legislators immediately in support of pending legislation, and to send further correspondence later, taking into account the local task force's recommendations.

Lakewood Accountability Action Group™ LAAG | www.LAAG.us | Lakewood, CA
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