Tulare looks to increase fines for illegal fireworks

Council Member Steve Harrell proposes $10,000 fine for use of illegal fireworks, up from $1,000 state statute

TULARE – Those looking to celebrate the Fourth of July with fireworks like roman candles or firecrackers will have to stick to barbecuing, says the Tulare City Council, who discussed elevating fines for popping off illegal fireworks at the June 1 council meeting.

After a previous recommendation by Council Member Steve Harrell to adopt a fine for illegal use of fireworks, City Attorney Mario Zamora noted that the city does not currently have a fireworks prohibition in the municipal code, and relies on state statutes to enforce fines.

“Unfortunately, based on the timing, we’re not able to bring to council an ordinance that would go into effect for this Fourth of July,” Zamora said, “there simply isn’t enough time to adopt the ordinance and the fee schedule.”

Currently, the state statute penalizes the use of illegal fireworks as a misdemeanor with $1,000 fine and up to 6 months in jail. Despite the poor timing, Zamora said staff still recommends the council move forward in establishing a city ordinance and fee schedule to raise the penalties from the current state statutes.

“This is a problem that we experience every single day of the year,” Harrell said. “At least two of us up here have had issues with it in the past week. I’m sure the Vice Mayor has had issues. It’s an ongoing problem, people are upset over it—it’s time that we address this and have an ordinance, something with some teeth in it. That’s why I proposed the $10,000 amount, and some cities have gone to that.”

Vice Mayor Terry Sayre echoed Council Member Harrell’s sentiment.

“The issue that comes up in my district over and over again is not fireworks around July 3rd and 4th and 5th, it’s every night of the week that illegal fireworks are being exploded in the middle of the night,” Sayre said. “I’m woken up many nights as well as others who live out on the west side where there’s some county but city as well. I’m wondering where people are purchasing these illegal fireworks, where they are storing them—there’s a lot of issues here that we need to address beyond fining people for shooting these off.”

Tulare Fire Marshall Ryan Leonardo, who’s been doing fireworks enforcement for the better part of 14 years, said while he’s in favor of establishing an ordinance, it’s important to take a look at what’s feasible for the community.

“A lot of the families that receive citations for illegal fireworks—they are families, they’re out trying to celebrate with young children,” Leonardo said. “$1,000 for some of us may not seem like a big hit, but for a lot of families that’s a big chunk of money that we’re imposing upon them when we issue them that citation.”

Leonardo said 4th amendment rights issues come into play when citing illegal fireworks due to the difficult nature of knowing who shot off the fireworks and where.

“I would encourage the public if they’re seeing things to contact us, contact the police department, we can actively patrol and look for those things,” Leonardo said. “Unless we pull up to someone’s home and we can see those items in their garage, in plain view or in the back of their truck, [it can be difficult to enforce.]”

Leonardo gave an example of a Riverside community that upped their fine to $5,000, where almost 100% of the citations issued were appealed.

“The hearing officer upheld all the citations because they were all legally issued and all of those folks did have illegal fireworks in their possession,” Leonardo said. “What became cumbersome was all the people who appealed then went through legal review and appealed through the court system, where the judges were not pleased to be hearing cases about the possession and use of illegal fireworks in their courtrooms.”

Stories of people’s roofs catching fire and fields set ablaze from illegal fireworks come from across the county, and Council Member Isherwood recommended city staff bring back history, stats on citations, payments of fines and a draft ordinance at a later date.

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