As I wrote recently, fireworks are increasingly a hot-button issue in the California coastal town of Pacifica where the celebratory explosions are popular and frequent. But with fires devastating nearby regions in recent years, some community members want all forms of legal fireworks stopped.
Many pet owners in Pacifica hate the fireworks tradition because the loud noises terrorize their animals. People with PTSD and allergies feel similarly. And residents concerned about California’s increasing fire danger fear a disaster in Pacifica caused by fireworks is only a matter of time.
An "urgent" text campaign sent on Febraury 5 by a group called Save Pacifica Fireworks asked Pacificans for support for the city's “safe and sane” regulations. The message said the issue would come up in the city council meeting that week.
At issue is the fact that “safe and sane” fireworks kiosks planted around town every late June and July raise more than $250,000 for schools and various non-profit organizations including Terra Nova High School football, the Pacifica Moose Lodge, Pacifica girls softball and many more.
The effort to keep safe and sane fireworks legal is spearheaded by Terra Nova High School Football coach Jason Piccolotti, Terra Nova Athletic Boosters board president Nathan Uter, Pacifica Tiger Sharks Pop Warner Football board president Mike Biancalana, and Jeanne Matysiak of American Legion Post #238.
At the meeting on February 8, the council heard numerous public comments supporting both sides of the issue, followed by a lengthy discussion about how to respond. The decision was to place the fireworks issue on the November 2022 ballot.
It will be the third time Pacificans have voted on the fireworks issue. In both 1983 and 1996, voters chose to keep some fireworks (like sparklers and smoke balls) legal, and elaborate versions (like roman candles and other projectiles) illegal.
About a year ago, city council took a “flash vote” which received votes from 445 people (of 519 invited). Nearly everyone (91.5%) knew about safe and sane fireworks, 48.4% said they believed only safe and san fireworks should be allowed, and 38.4% felt all fireworks should be banned.
They also sent questionnaires to the nonprofits who benefit from the kiosks. Six of 12 responded, and all said that the loss of the fireworks revenue would be detrimental to the programs. The questionnaire asked if they had discussed alternative ways to raise money; most said they had but all agreed that fireworks sales were the most efficient and profitable.
Keep It Professional
To address the fundraising gap that would be left if the fireworks booths were no longer allowed, newly-elected council-member Tygerjas Twyrls Bigstyck offered a solution.
What if the nonprofits banned together to create a big, professional Fourth of July fireworks display that would draw not only Pacifica residents but people from neighboring cities? Bigstyck estimated that the proceeds from entry fees could raise enough to support the various nonprofits.
The logistics of planning such an event would have to be left up to concerned citizens, Mayor Sue Beckmeyer said, because city staff does not have the capacity to add it to their already busy schedules.
The Commenter Nextdoor
Nextdoor lit up with discussions after the meeting with some comments supporting Bigstyck's proposal and others saying the logistics were too daunting, and that the nonprofits didn’t have enough incentive to take on such a task.
Others lamented the extra law enforcement hours necessary on holidays to monitor the illegal fireworks.
“We need to stop spending significant amounts of money to employ extra police officers on the 4th of July, since we could really use these funds to police all the car property thefts going on all year round now. IMO that would be money better spent, instead of having extra police running around like key stone cops, not accomplishing anything on the 4th of July.”
Enforcement is also difficult—state law requires that officers witness someone setting off the fireworks to write a citation.
Still others worried that legal fireworks are a gateway to the more dangerous kind.
“One thing I learned from listening to the City Council meeting that was very disturbing was that people can and do make illegal fireworks out of legal ones and that there are directions online to do so. That would certainly blur the line between legal and illegal fireworks.”