Councilmembers approved a resolution ordinance and added a municipal code that would give law enforcement officials the ability to issue administrative citations to residents for the use of illegal fireworks on their property.
At the May 3 council meeting, Winters Police Chief John P. Miller presented the Winters City Council with Ordinance 2022-04 which would add Sections 8.24.130-8.24.150 to G Chapter 8.24 of Title 8 of the Winters Municipal Code relating to Social Host Liability and Administrative Citations for the Use of Illegal Fireworks.
According to Miller, similar ordinances have been approved in neighboring cities including Woodland, Vacaville, Sacramento and Suisun City.
Miller said that currently under the State Fireworks Law, the unlawful possession and use of fireworks is a misdemeanor. He says the challenge is that law enforcement must on-view individuals in the act of setting off the fireworks in order to hold them accountable.
Under the new ordinance, law enforcement would be able to issue an administrative citation to property owners at a later time and not be required to view the incident.
In the City of Winters, “Safe and Sane” fireworks are are allowed. Miller said they are trying to target illegal and dangerous fireworks, and in particular, aerial fireworks that are often seen in the sky over neighborhoods.
Safe and Sane fireworks are not explosives, not aerially launched, and are tested and approved by the Office of the State Fire Marshal.
“For anyone that’s been around the City of Winters, the local fireworks shows in residential
neighborhoods rival our actual fireworks show on July 3 — And it’s an obvious danger. Not only to the public setting the fireworks off, but also setting fires in these drought conditions,” Miller said.
According to Miller, current efforts to make personal contact with individuals setting off illegal fireworks and attempting to enforce a zero tolerance for them has had little impact on the usage of them in the community.
Miller told councilmembers that oftentimes, neighbors will anonymously call in the use of illegal fireworks and expect the police to handle it. The challenges in enforcement include the fact that police officers must personally view the illegal fireworks being set off or rely on a citizen or neighbor to enact a Citizen’s Arrest.
Miller said that like with most criminal activity, individuals will not do anything in front of police presence, but once they drive away the illegal fireworks get set off behind them and out of view.
Under the ordinance addition, property owners can be held liable for illegal fireworks that are set off at a gathering or party they are hosting on their property. This is similar to other social host ordinances including alcohol and noise.
The administrative citation can be given by police officers, firefighters and city code enforcement officers at a later date to the property owner. Miller noted there have been challenges in attempting to address the issue face-to-face at a gathering when attendees have been consuming intoxicating materials.
Miller said law enforcement will be able to utilize evidence in the form of video, photographs or other evidence presented in the form of a citizen’s report.
He also noted that property owners, under the ordinance, can get “an out” of the $1,000 fine if they themselves call to report the use of illegal fireworks on their property or attempt to take action to put a stop to it.
“If they do that, they are not held liable under the ordinance,” Miller said.
Miller said the community should be aware that under the ordinance, although the threshold of required evidence has been lowered (officers do not have to view it in action) WPD still will be relying on citizens to report illegal fireworks in.
“We still need people to come forward. They don’t need to sign a citizen’s arrest,” Miller said. “We still need people to come forward and provide accurate information.”
Miller told the Express they are looking into a reporting app by TNT Fireworks that would assist in reporting the use of illegal fireworks.
In the meantime, the use of illegal fireworks can be sent to WPD via the tips email or called in to the regular dispatch (non emergency) line at 530-795-4561. When reporting, Miller said it’s important to provide accurate identification of people and a date timestamp on photos.
“The more information they are able to provide, the more likely we’ll be able to follow up,” Miller said.
At the May 3 meeting, Fire Chief Brad L. Lopez noted the ordinance is a tool to try and prevent the usage of illegal fireworks.
“This social host ordinance will be a tool in our ability to really deter folks from the purchase and use of illegal fireworks,” Lopez said. “There is a vast majority of neighborhoods that use illegal fireworks.”
Lopez noted that one of the major wildfires that occurred in the greater Winters area, as well as a quick-moving fire just off of Moody Slough Road last year, were both attributed to being connected to the usage of fireworks.
“Our goal is to really enhance and protect our public — still allow folks to celebrate Independence Day, and we want to encourage that,” Lopez said. “But we want to encourage them to do it in a safe manner.”
Councilmember Pierre Neu said he thinks the ordinance is a good idea, and stressed that the public is informed through word of mouth and local communication efforts to help educate residents about the ordinance. He also wanted to ensure the public understood the ordinance is about protecting the community from fires, and not about a means of raising money.
Dennis Revell, TNT Fireworks spokesperson, gave support of the ordinance in a public comment. Revell noted that 65 jurisdictions throughout the state have already adopted similar ordinances.
“It is one piece of the enforcement tool — If you have an opportunity to use it, it will help to impact the problem your community is having with illegal fireworks,” Revell said.
Mayor Wade Cowan said the ordinance is an important, and much needed step to take.
“I think it’s necessary. Winters has always been popular for people coming out of town because we have the Safe and Sane fireworks, as well as a nice little fireworks show. We don’t want to be starting the hills on fire,” Cowan said.
Councilmember Jesse Loren was absent. Councilmembers unanimously approved the addition of the ordinance.
Miller said the ordinance will be adopted at the May 17 City Council meeting.