It may be time for the city and citizens of Tracy to reconsider the cost and consequences of permitting fireworks in our community.
Let’s begin with the statistics: The city licenses nine nonprofit or not-for-profit organizations to sell safe-and-sane fireworks every Fourth of July. Of the 482 incorporated cities in California, 186 have banned the sale and use of fireworks — even the safe-and-sane variety — within their borders. Fireworks are illegal in the unincorporated areas of 44 of 58 counties, including San Joaquin.
The City Council approved the sale of fireworks by a 4-1 vote in May 2011. That first year, several charities made around $30,000 after expenses. In 2012, gross sales fell between $28,000 and $90,000. The earnings have fallen off somewhat since then, but the weeklong sales still bring in a lot of money.
There are also costs associated with allowing fireworks in town.
This year, between June 28 and July 5, Tracy police officers responded to 226 citizen complaints involving fireworks. On July 4, Tracy firefighters responded to 18 calls between 6 p.m. and midnight. Of those, 11 — 10 grass fires and one house fire — were attributed to fireworks.
The cacophony of fireworks being set off also takes a toll on veterans. Several homes in the community were marked with yard signs explaining that a combat veteran lived there and asking neighbors to please not set off fireworks.
The explosions also lead to a big problem with lost pets. On Sunday morning, the Tracy Animal Shelter had 79 calls on its voicemail from people whose pets had run away, startled by the fireworks. Eleven of those animals ended up at the shelter, and as of Tuesday, only four had been claimed and were back home.
The calls above represent problems created by illegal and legal products. Because Tracy has made sales and possession of certain fireworks legal, those using illegal fireworks are harder to track down. In fact, on July 4, police officers issued two warnings and made no arrests in the 95 fireworks-related calls.
The house fire mentioned above was sparked by an illegal aerial firework landing on a shake roof. The threat to property is very real, especially when a drought has made tinder of the vegetation throughout town.
Chief Gary Hampton, who said both public safety departments were stretched thin by citywide use of fireworks, has ordered a five-year review of the safe-and-sane fireworks policy and expects to present it to the council in September.
We respect that city leaders wanted to help local nonprofits who care for people and animals in need. But we believe the city has a broader responsibility to the majority of residents who just want to celebrate our independence in peace and safety. If they move now and inform the charitable organizations that this will be the last year of legal fireworks sales, those groups will have ample time to find other ways to tap into the generosity of Tracy residents.