The Fullerton City Council voted 3-2 on Tuesday to place a fireworks measure on the November ballot, which would allow voters to decide whether or not to keep safe and sane fireworks in the city.
Mayor Jennifer Fitzgerald spoke against the measure and said it was too soon to have this go back to the ballot, as safe and sane fireworks were last legalized in Fullerton in 2012.
“I think focusing on safe and sane fireworks is a distraction to where this community should be focused on, which is the illegal fireworks,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s the one idiot, it’s not all of us, that are the problem.”
Mayor Fitzgerald and council member Bruce Whitaker voted against the motion while council members Jesus Silva, Jan M. Flory and Ahmad Zahra were in favor of adding a fireworks measure on the ballot.
“We still need to address the issue of enforcement. So, either way, we will have to start looking seriously about ongoing yearly engagement with the community, educating them,” Zahra said. “But, at this point, I think it’s only fair that the community gets to decide again.”
Chris Nigg, deputy chief of administration and fire marshal of the Fullerton Fire Department, gave the council a 2020 public safety report on fireworks, in which he noted the complaints, enforcement and Fullerton’s fireworks activity in comparison with other cities.
From July 1 to 7, Fullerton had 23 fire responses whereas Brea and Costa Mesa had two, Nigg said. On the Fourth of July, Brea only had one fire issue while Fullerton had 14 fire responses.
“If you look over a five-year time frame, it’s actually kind of difficult to tell or to come up with a rhyme or reason as to how the fire responses play out over the years. However, it is important to note there is a correlation between the cities that do have safe and sane bans and the cities that do allow safe and sane fireworks,” Nigg said.
Nigg said that he is hesitant about using Costa Mesa’s numbers for data comparison because though the city is similar to Fullerton in population and size, there are other factors to account for that could be attributed to Fullerton’s high volume of fireworks responses, despite both cities allowing the use of safe and sane fireworks.
Jose Arana, Fullerton Police Department acting captain, said on the Fourth of July alone from midnight to 3 a.m., the police department received a total of 320 firework-related calls, compared to 2019 where they registered 200 firework related calls.
In regards to their proactive enforcement, Arana said the police department conducted 23 undercover firework operations, starting in late May, which resulted in the confiscation of 1,376 pounds of illegal fireworks, 18 criminal citations and three arrests.
The fireworks agenda item received 16 electronic comments, many of which called upon the council to allow a fireworks measure on the November ballot.
John Kelly, vice president of TNT Fireworks and safe and sane fireworks wholesale distributor in Fullerton, spoke against a November ballot measure to repeal the sale of safe and sane fireworks in Fullerton.
“A cohesive effort at the local county and state level will be the only solution for Fullerton or any city’s dangerous fireworks problem,” Kelly said.
He outlined three steps in attacking the problem of illegal firework activity: refocus the effort into a year-around mission, stem the flow of illegal fireworks into California and enforce severe consequences for any and all violators.
Kelly added that the city could monitor and track illegal fireworks flow in Orange County through programs like neighborhood watch. He said his business could teach enforcement to spot the difference between safe and illegal fireworks.
“The only place you’re going to buy safe and sane is from a licensed booth, not on craigslist, not on Facebook and not out of the back or front of your brother-in-law’s van or trunk,” Kelly said.
Some Fullerton community members spoke on the essentiality of fireworks as a fundraiser for nonprofits and youth programs, especially those that have suffered financially due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We really need that fundraiser in Fullerton. It’s been a key thing for a lot of youth sports,” one speaker said. “I know that they rely on it heavily and it’s something that I’ve participated in for years and I enjoy.”
However, other speakers brought up the recurring issues fireworks have caused in the city for the past several years, which includes PTSD for veterans and anxious and rowdy pets.
“Please give us the opportunity for the community to vote. Put it in the ballot and let our residents decide how we can embrace this. I know it can bring revenue, it can bring revenue for different nonprofits but we are resilient and we can create another way to get money,” another speaker said.
Flory said that the annual fireworks complaints are likely not attributable to safe and sane fireworks, but supported putting the issue on the November ballot to address the concerns of Fullerton residents.
“This community has experienced fireworks for eight years and I think it’s time for the voters to be able to say yay or nay on it. If they say ‘We are not going to ban fireworks,’ then this community has confirmed its original vote in 2012 and I, for one, will be content with that,” Flory said.