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Council talks tougher about fireworks crackdown
• Council may hire security firm next year to bust users of illegal fireworks
illegal fireworks in ceres
Illegal fireworks shoot up into the sky from a home south of Hale Aloha Way on Saturday evening. Reports of aerial fireworks were widespread, far too many for Ceres Police to get to.

The wanton disregard of laws prohibiting the lighting of illegal fireworks last month prompted the Ceres City Council last week to discuss ways to crack down on violators.

The council bounced around the idea of reducing the number of non-profit organizations selling safe and sane type fireworks. About 300 jurisdictions allow the sale of safe and sane fireworks with the exception of mountain counties where fire hazards are great.

Mayor Chris Vierra said he wasn’t at home during the Fourth of July weekend but found a lot of firework debris in his backyard.

“The mortar that must have been in these things to sail from the street 100 to 150 feet over my roof and into my backyard I can only imagine what the explosion as like,” said Vierra. He said he found 20 pieces of cardboard from detonated aerial fireworks and found yellow powder all over his patio and patio furniture.

He said he didn’t necessarily want to get rid of safe and sane fireworks – none of which leave the ground or explode like illegal firecrackers. But he suggested strengthening enforcement by charging a fee of $100 to $200 to vendors of legal fireworks which could fund additional personnel to be assigned to specific council districts. Those people would report to Ceres Police.

“I think something needs to be done because it’s getting out of control,” the mayor said.

“With the number of officers we have, it’s hard to be everywhere in the city so maybe it’s using a third party like Ontel, I don’t know.”

Only non-profit organizations are allowed to sell fireworks in Ceres.

Some on the council liked Riverbank’s fine structure for violators. That city issues a fine of $1,000 for the first offense, $2,000 for the second and $3,000 for the third.

Vice Mayor Linda Ryno suggested the city not announce those patrols to tip off violators. She also suggested that if non-profits balk at paying a fee “maybe that’s when we have to have a discussion on just banning all of them then.”

Any new fee would be placed on top of the $399 vendors already pay for the permit to sell fireworks.

“We need to do something,” Ryno said. “It’s gotten so ridiculous. This year for the first time ever when we came home I actually found remnants of 11 different illegal fireworks in our yard in all kinds of different places and we’ve never had that happen in the almost 36 years we’ve lived in this house.”

Councilman Mike Kline suggested maybe paying for more police overtime to “get this thing under control.” Councilman Channce Condit liked the idea of hiring Ontel Security for extra eyes and ears.

Another pet peeve of the mayor’s is people who light off legal fireworks in the streets and refuse to clean up the debris. He said he’d like to see the city of Ceres follow some of the central coast cities which say fireworks can only be lit in a driveway or on private property.

“We’re literally held liable if somebody drives through the neighborhood and gets hit while these people are out in the middle of the road lighting off fireworks and everybody wants to do it out in the middle of the road because they can leave their trash for the city to pick up.  There’s still stuff in the middle of my road from the Fourth of July when people didn’t pick up after themselves. So if they want to be responsible, do it in your own driveway.”

Councilman Bret Durossette agreed.

Citizen Lee Brandt told the council that he liked the idea of hiring security and banning fireworks use in the streets. He said non-profits make a hefty profit and can afford an extra fee for patrols.

“It was miserable, it really was,” said Brandt of the recent fireworks display. “Not just for the veterans, for the old folks and it went on a couple of weeks before and a week after and not to mention the dogs.”

A woman only identified as Kimberly dialed into the Zoom meeting to say fireworks sales were stronger than ever this year, probably because of the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions which cancelled many legal aerial fireworks shows. She expressed concerns about the city adding fees to vendors that would result in less money underwriting sports programs for youth. Kimberly also expressed the unfairness of making peddlers of safe and sane fireworks to pay the price for those breaking the law.

Louis Linney, vice president of TNT Fireworks, assured the council that the out-of-control increase in illegal fireworks display was experienced nationwide. He said the majority is coming from Mexico and Nevada. He said he’s addressed eight other councils wanting to get a grasp on a solution. Linney promoted the Nail ’em app to let residents report illegal fireworks. He said Manteca uses video and photos snapped by users to send violations in the mail. Vierra told Linney that Ceres did use the app last month. Finally Linney suggested an extra fee to vendors may not be legal.

Steven Whitney sent the council an email saying that safe and sane fireworks is the sole fundraiser for the Ceres post of the American Legion to help charity, providing military honors at veterans’ funerals and assisting veterans when needed. Cancelling fireworks vending would be devastating to his post’s finances.