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Council will explore crackdown of illegal fireworks
• Council to take up issue next month in Study Session
Lee Brandt
Lee Brandt urged the City Council last week to do something about legal and illegal fireworks.

Lee Brandt’s calls last week for a citywide ban on legal fireworks opened up the Ceres City Council to the possibility of stiffer penalties and more enforcement during future holidays.

Brandt also expressed concern about the proliferation of illegal fireworks that he saw blown off on the Fourth of July in his neighborhood.

“I would like to see some sort of task force set up, even if it’s only for a few weeks during these trying times."
Lee Brandt

“I would like to see some sort of task force set up, even if it’s only for a few weeks during these trying times,” Brandt told the council at the Monday, July 9 council meeting. “I know Ceres is not money rich and Public Safety is stretched to the max but something has to be done.”

He suggested the city set a $10,000 fine to replace the current $1,000 fine for those caught possessing illegal fireworks in Ceres. Brandt also suggested offenders forced to undergo 100 hours of community service. He suggested a $15,000 fine and 200 hours for the second citation.

As a member of the city’s Measure H Committee he said he wanted to see the half-cent sales tax approved by voters in 2007 to go towards “need” and not “wants.”

Richard Evans told the council that fireworks sold by non-profit organizations are not the problem.

Mayor Chris Vierra said he intends to ask City Manager Toby Wells to order a special study session to discuss the fireworks issue. The matter should be scheduled at an August meeting.

“I want to be provided with some insight as to what other jurisdictions are doing, what we might be able to do,” said Vierra. He said many are ignoring laws in place that prohibit the possession and/or use of illegal fireworks. In California, anything that leaves the ground or exploded is illegal.

The mayor said he wants to get to the “core of the problem” but said there is validity to continue offering safe and sane variety of fireworks.

Councilwoman Linda Ryno said the city should get something in place before New Year’s Eve which she said is “bad as well.” The mayor later agreed saying he’s afraid to go outside at midnight on Jan. 1 because revelers are firing bullets into the air and “they must come down somewhere.”

Don Cool brought to the meeting a tub of fireworks debris found on his roof and on his front porch of his Stanford Avenue property, calling it a “fire waiting to happen.”

“This has been something that’s been going on forever in Ceres,” said Cool. “This isn’t something that’s new … it’s pretty sad that it gets to the point where you’re afraid to leave home; you don’t know if you’re going to come back to a home and what’s your animal going to do? Kill himself bouncing off the walls in the house? Nobody should be put through that stuff. It’s irritating.”

He said he saw illegal fireworks being blown off in the street 15 feet from his property and knew that calls to police would likely go unanswered. He said he was not proud of the fact that he armed himself with a baseball bat and threatened to do damage to property and person if he saw another one lit. Cool said he worried about the consequences of being outnumbered but the neighbors’ party packed it up and some dispersed.

Cool mentioned one town in Wisconsin which uses a half-dozen group of citizens to patrol the city to call police with locations from where fireworks are being launched.

“These people do have spotters,” said Cool. “I saw this the other night for the first time … the people that were setting them off in the street, they had a guy over on Ninth Street watching for traffic and they had another one on Kay Street watching for traffic. And then the two guys give thumbs up and the then guy runs out and lights it. Boom. Away they go.”

The city ordinance passed in May 2017 allows the city to cite a property owner or tenant for mere possession of illegal fireworks. City Manager Wells said the problem is having enough police officers on duty to issue those citations.

Cool suggested the city could do better than cite two persons for illegal fireworks versus the 26 issued last year.

“You have to have people to do that (cite),” Wells told Cool, who retorted “We have all these firemen, all these police – we have people, we’re just not using them.”

“Unfortunately we don’t,” said Wells in answer to the comment about having enough staff.

Gene Yeakley said as a war veteran he suffers from anxiety of the exploding sounds of illegal fireworks and has often left the city on the occasion. He is all for increase in fines to violators.

Verna Nelson said she works the fireworks booth for her church and doesn’t want to see legal fireworks banned.

Police Chief Brent Smith said on the Fourth he had nine sworn officers on patrol who handled 86 calls for service when 40 is the average. The department made nine arrests, mostly alcohol related, and two arrests for illegal fireworks. He set the record straight that five – not two – citations were issued for illegal fireworks which he acknowledged was “not very many but out officers were tied up on calls.”

Four persons were injured when an illegal firework shot into family members in the 3600 block of Southern Oak Drive during the Fourth of July. The injuries varied from first- and second-degree burns to arms and legs. At least two victims sought treatment at local hospitals while others were treated at the scene by paramedics. 

Councilmembers Ken Lane and Bret Durossette were absent at the meeting.