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New Menlo Park firework penalties to skyrocket to $1,000

City Council members say illegal firework detonations have become 'unbearable' and a 'major quality of life issue'

The penalty for detonating fireworks in Menlo Park is now up to $1,000 and six months in jail. Photo by Sue Dremann.

Anyone thinking of lighting illegal fireworks this Fourth of July, or any other time, now has another big reason to think twice: The Menlo Park City Council just enacted an urgency ordinance that makes anyone caught detonating fireworks subject to fines of up to $1,000 and up to six months in jail.

The discussion was brought forward from Councilwoman Cecilia Taylor, who said that illegal firework detonations in her district have had a significant impact on the community, and that after seeing a similar ordinance enacted for unincorporated county areas by the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, she thought the ordinance could be a tool for the police department to get illegal fireworks off the streets.

The problem of disruptive and illegal fireworks has been escalating for the past several years, but worsened especially last year, she said.

"The amount of illegal fireworks in the city of Menlo Park was unbearable for a lot of people," she said. "Something needed to be done."

The new Menlo Park law is derived from a similar ordinance recently enacted in unincorporated San Mateo County by the Board of Supervisors that boosted existing fines for detonating illegal fireworks tenfold to $1,000 for any violation of the county's fireworks ordinance.

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The Menlo Park ordinance, adopted unanimously by the City Council Tuesday, defines fireworks as inclusive of pyrotechnic devices that require licenses to use, along with "firecrackers, torpedoes, skyrockets, roman candles, cherry bombs, sparklers, chasers, snakes or other fireworks of like or similar construction."

In addition to safety risks associated with directly using fireworks, they also pose serious fire risks, especially following last year's extensively damaging fire season, the ordinance noted. Plus, those same weather and low-moisture conditions are expected to continue into the future, the ordinance added, citing Cal Fire.

While some council members worried about the impacts that a $1,000 fine might have on, for instance, a teen from a low-income family, others argued that the point was to have a harsh penalty as a deterrent.

"The penalties seem somewhat draconian, but to some degree, that's the intent," said Mayor Drew Combs, who said that his district has also been impacted by illegal fireworks and called it a "major quality of life issue." The fireworks have triggered fear, woken people up, made it difficult to sleep and disturbed pets, he added.

In a public comment, Menlo Park resident Adina Levin said that she was concerned that the ordinance could disproportionately impact lower-income youth of color compared to affluent, white youth. "It's not going to be a white, wealthy kid that goes to jail," she said.

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"It's only some people who have the most fines and jail times, and that has really negative consequences down the line," she added.

Taylor raised the question of enacting a community service requirement as an alternative to the $1,000 fine, but City Attorney Nira Doherty said the police department doesn't have a community service program in place, and that nuisance ordinances aren't typically enforced with community service requirements.

Councilwoman Jen Wolosin said that her district also experiences the disruptive noise impacts of fireworks and raised concerns about disproportionate impacts.

Councilman Ray Mueller also raised concerns that the penalty seemed "pretty severe," while acknowledging that fireworks haven't caused disruptions in District 5, which he represents. "One thousand dollars for a specific family can be a big, big, big deal," he said.

While he favored a sliding scale to increase the fines for repeated offenses, he said he'd defer to the council members for whom the fireworks are a problem, ultimately voting for the ordinance "with reservations."

Police Chief David Norris told council members that he planned to encourage officers to exercise discretion and focus on educating the community about the new policy, and said that the ordinance would provide law enforcement with a new tool in deterring fireworks. He noted that just as the fines associated with other violations of the law, like running stop signs or red lights, there's a simple way to avoid them: "Just stop."

"If you were to just not discharge fireworks, you're not going to receive any fine," he said.

Email Staff Writer Kate Bradshaw at [email protected]

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New Menlo Park firework penalties to skyrocket to $1,000

City Council members say illegal firework detonations have become 'unbearable' and a 'major quality of life issue'

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Thu, Jun 10, 2021, 11:26 am

Anyone thinking of lighting illegal fireworks this Fourth of July, or any other time, now has another big reason to think twice: The Menlo Park City Council just enacted an urgency ordinance that makes anyone caught detonating fireworks subject to fines of up to $1,000 and up to six months in jail.

The discussion was brought forward from Councilwoman Cecilia Taylor, who said that illegal firework detonations in her district have had a significant impact on the community, and that after seeing a similar ordinance enacted for unincorporated county areas by the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, she thought the ordinance could be a tool for the police department to get illegal fireworks off the streets.

The problem of disruptive and illegal fireworks has been escalating for the past several years, but worsened especially last year, she said.

"The amount of illegal fireworks in the city of Menlo Park was unbearable for a lot of people," she said. "Something needed to be done."

The new Menlo Park law is derived from a similar ordinance recently enacted in unincorporated San Mateo County by the Board of Supervisors that boosted existing fines for detonating illegal fireworks tenfold to $1,000 for any violation of the county's fireworks ordinance.

The Menlo Park ordinance, adopted unanimously by the City Council Tuesday, defines fireworks as inclusive of pyrotechnic devices that require licenses to use, along with "firecrackers, torpedoes, skyrockets, roman candles, cherry bombs, sparklers, chasers, snakes or other fireworks of like or similar construction."

In addition to safety risks associated with directly using fireworks, they also pose serious fire risks, especially following last year's extensively damaging fire season, the ordinance noted. Plus, those same weather and low-moisture conditions are expected to continue into the future, the ordinance added, citing Cal Fire.

While some council members worried about the impacts that a $1,000 fine might have on, for instance, a teen from a low-income family, others argued that the point was to have a harsh penalty as a deterrent.

"The penalties seem somewhat draconian, but to some degree, that's the intent," said Mayor Drew Combs, who said that his district has also been impacted by illegal fireworks and called it a "major quality of life issue." The fireworks have triggered fear, woken people up, made it difficult to sleep and disturbed pets, he added.

In a public comment, Menlo Park resident Adina Levin said that she was concerned that the ordinance could disproportionately impact lower-income youth of color compared to affluent, white youth. "It's not going to be a white, wealthy kid that goes to jail," she said.

"It's only some people who have the most fines and jail times, and that has really negative consequences down the line," she added.

Taylor raised the question of enacting a community service requirement as an alternative to the $1,000 fine, but City Attorney Nira Doherty said the police department doesn't have a community service program in place, and that nuisance ordinances aren't typically enforced with community service requirements.

Councilwoman Jen Wolosin said that her district also experiences the disruptive noise impacts of fireworks and raised concerns about disproportionate impacts.

Councilman Ray Mueller also raised concerns that the penalty seemed "pretty severe," while acknowledging that fireworks haven't caused disruptions in District 5, which he represents. "One thousand dollars for a specific family can be a big, big, big deal," he said.

While he favored a sliding scale to increase the fines for repeated offenses, he said he'd defer to the council members for whom the fireworks are a problem, ultimately voting for the ordinance "with reservations."

Police Chief David Norris told council members that he planned to encourage officers to exercise discretion and focus on educating the community about the new policy, and said that the ordinance would provide law enforcement with a new tool in deterring fireworks. He noted that just as the fines associated with other violations of the law, like running stop signs or red lights, there's a simple way to avoid them: "Just stop."

"If you were to just not discharge fireworks, you're not going to receive any fine," he said.

Email Staff Writer Kate Bradshaw at [email protected]

Comments

Chuck Bernstein
Registered user
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jun 10, 2021 at 1:17 pm
Chuck Bernstein, Menlo Park: The Willows
Registered user
on Jun 10, 2021 at 1:17 pm

As a 50-plus-year resident of The Willows, I am delighted by the tougher stance on fireworks (if that's what it ends up being) taken by the Menlo Park City Council. Thank you.

Frankly, I'm much more concerned about the sleep health of our seniors, odd-shift workers, and PTSD veterans, as well as those living near wildfire areas and our panicked pets, than I am about a $1,000 fine for a low-income person who is setting off the fireworks. The knee-jerk reaction regarding unequal impacts on the poor is misplaced, and is due to a basic misunderstanding of the problem. The fact is that most of those being affected--the seniors, odd-shift workers, and PTSD veterans--are low income. They can least afford the sealed windows of air-conditioned premises and they lack the easy access to health care that those with fragile health require. Some of the professional-grade bombs and rockets that are going off are very expensive, so it is obvious that a perpetrator is likely to be able to pay the fine without hardship. Finally, some of the fireworks contests are the result of gang competition, so cramping such activities is probably a good thing.

I hope that Chief Norris' definitions of "discretion" and "education" do not mean ignoring the problem by issuing warnings only. At the very least, perpetrators should be required to disclose their suppliers, which could lead to an elimination of the problem at its source; such disclosures would probably be worth issuing no more than a warning. The City Council may want to consider an ordinance that fines those caught dealing the fireworks or with a quantity of at least five pounds with a fine of $25,000 or more. They are the ones who are benefiting from the sale of these devices.

If someone really wants to protect those who are less privileged, it is far better to advocate for the victims of indiscriminate fireworks rather than the perpetrators.

--Chuck Bernstein
444 Oak Court


Brian
Registered user
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jun 10, 2021 at 3:07 pm
Brian, Menlo Park: The Willows
Registered user
on Jun 10, 2021 at 3:07 pm

I see a vast difference between Sparklers and Snakes and other very limited, not loud fireworks and things like Bottle Rockets, Cherry Bombs, mortar fired fireworks and the likes of M80's and M100's, etc. I personally find that issuing a $1000 citation for a kid with a sparkler or a snake is ridiculous, especially if they are using that on private property and under adult supervision. At the same time we suffer night after night with explosions that in some cases rattle the windows in the Willows and make it sound like a warzone outside and the police seem helpless to stop them.


Lorraine
Registered user
Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Jul 6, 2021 at 8:01 pm
Lorraine, Menlo Park: Belle Haven
Registered user
on Jul 6, 2021 at 8:01 pm

The Fourth of July was a nightmare for me with fireworks going off starting around 9:15 pm and did not stop until 2:00 am the following morning. I thought I was going to lose my mind. I am very grateful for the officers who are helping us!


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