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  Fireworks in Richmond?
July 19, 2011

After the recent 4th of July, it was widely speculated in neighborhood blogs and email distribution lists that the observance of this Independence Day in Richmond with “personal” fireworks had set a new high. Certainly I could agree with that from what I observed. These discussions were followed by arguments pro and con regarding personal fireworks, including noise, safety and effect on pets, particularly dogs. What everyone agreed on, however, is that personal fireworks are illegal in Richmond.
Turns out they were wrong. Although Contra Costa County bans all fireworks, that ban applies only to unincorporated areas.
Contra Costa County Ordinance 44-2.002 - Restrictions—Exceptions. No person shall possess, manufacture, sell, use or discharge, or offer to do so, any fireworks (including "dangerous," "safe and sane," and other fireworks) as defined in or pursuant to Health and Safety Code Sections 12502 through 12504 other than fusees (red flares) properly used by railroads, peace officers, firemen and motorists.
Richmond has no ordinance that bans the use or sale of fireworks.
The State of California, through the State Fire Marshal regulates fireworks, including banning “dangerous fireworks,” and regulates, including approving “Safe and Sane” fireworks. For more information, See:

Bans of all fireworks are commonplace in the United States. Four states, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York ban all fireworks, as do many cities and counties. In many places where bans are in effect or being considered, they are controversial, the use of fireworks being seen as a long standing tradition and a personal right. Some jurisdictions have recently relented to provide revenue in tough economic times.
Setting of fireworks is now patriotic in more ways than one: It can help put your local government's budget in the black. As cities and counties around the country struggle to make ends meet, many are lifting old restrictions on fireworks. A 65-year-old ban in Hawkins Country, Tenn., was lifted in the hopes it would generate as much as $200,000 in annual permit fees and sales tax revenue. Pennsylvania is trying to balance safety with revenue by allowing only non-Pennsylvanians to buy heavy duty fireworks. The industry generated $925 million in sales in 2010. (New York Times, July 3, 2011)
The South, which has been a bastion of fireworks use and sales is now adopting wholesale bans due to drought conditions.
Let's start with Texas, where the bans on fireworks are being issued by the bunches as Independence Day draws closer. It makes perfect sense that a state with so much damage due to wildfires that have torched thousands of acres in 2011 isn't going to be lenient when it comes to shooting off fireworks anytime soon. Nearly the entire state is still gripped by an exceptional drought, so until they receive a fair amount of rain, it's a good idea to hold off on setting things on fire. (MSNBC June 28, 2011)

The reasons for fireworks bans typically include the following:

  • Personal safety:  In 2010, 3,400 children under age 15 were injured by fireworks. Fireworks injuries sent an estimated 8,800 people to hospital emergency rooms in 2009. Hands, fingers and eyes are areas most injured by fireworks. Over 50% of injuries are burns, while another 25% are lacerations. Sparklers can burn at 1200 degrees and are responsible for 25% of all injuries.
  • Fire safety: In 2009, fireworks caused an estimated 18,000 reported fires, including 1,300 total structure fires, 400 vehicle fires, and 16,300 outside and other fires. These fires resulted in no reported civilian deaths, 30 civilian injuries and $38 million in direct property damage. On Independence Day in a typical year, far more U.S. fires are reported than on any other day, and fireworks account for more than half of those fires, more than any other cause of fires.
  • Noise: Some people are affected by the noise of exploding fireworks in ways that range from aggravation to physical or psychological damage.  Fireworks can be loud and the vibrations can travel far. In the middle of the night fireworks often disturb people trying to sleep. Fireworks can exceed 140 decibels and noise at 85 decibels or above can damage hearing.
  • Animals: Pets, especially dogs can be freaked out by nearby fireworks.
  • Health: The toxic components of smoke from fireworks can effect health, particularly in people with respiratory weaknesses.

There is no shortage of opportunities for Richmond residents to enjoy Independence day fireworks. Richmond has its own outstanding fireworks display (with the Oakland-East Bay Symphony)at Marina Bay on July 3, and dozens of cities have their own celebrations and displays on July 4, many of which you can even see from Richmond.
Personal fireworks are a long tradition in Richmond. So is celebratory gunfire. It’s time to end both. In order to bring Richmond in line with the rest of unincorporated Contra Costa County and most cities in the Bay Area, I will be introducing the following ordinance that will clarify that personal fireworks are illegal in Richmond.


The City Council of the City of Richmond, California, does ordain as follows:
              Section 1:   Article XI of the Richmond Municipal Code is hereby amended by adding Chapter 11.05, Fireworks, which reads as follows:
11.05.010                                                                           Definitions.
For the purpose of this Chapter, the following words and phrases shall have the meanings ascribed to them in this section unless the context specifically indicates otherwise:
(a)  “Dangerous Fireworks”.  Those fireworks listed and defined in California Health and Safety Code sections 12505 and 12561 and the relevant sections of Title 19 of the California Code of Regulations, as the same may be amended from time to time.
(b)  “Exempt Fireworks”. Any special item containing pyrotechnics compositions which the state fire marshal, with the advise of the state fire advisory board, has investigated and determined to be limited to industrial, commercial or agricultural use, or religious ceremonies when authorized by a permit granted by the authority having jurisdiction.
(c)   “Fireworks”.  Any device containing chemical elements and chemical compounds capable of burning independently of the oxygen of the atmosphere and producing audible, visual, mechanical or thermal effects which are useful as pyrotechnic devices or for entertainment.  These items include, but are not limited to, devices designated by the manufacturer as fireworks, torpedoes, skyrockets, roman candles, rocket, Daygo bombs, M-80s, sparklers, party poppers, paper caps, chasers, fountains, smoke sparks, aerial bombs, fireworks kits and firecrackers.  This term includes both “dangerous fireworks” and “safe and sane” fireworks.
(d)  “Safe and sane fireworks” or “state approved fireworks”.  Any fireworks that do not come within the definition of “dangerous fireworks” or “exempt fireworks”.
11.05.020     Possession, Use or Sale of Fireworks Prohibited.
        It is unlawful and a misdemeanor for any person or entity to possess, sell, give away, store, use, display, display for sale, explode, ignite or discharge any fireworks within the City limits except by valid permit as “Exempt fireworks” or by a valid special event permit for a public event authorized by the City.
        (a)          Any special event permit or exempt fireworks permit is not transferable and shall only be valid for the date of the specific event.
        (b)          In addition to criminal action, any person or entity who possesses, sells, gives away, stores, uses, displays, displays for sale, explodes, ignites or discharges any fireworks in violation of this Chapter is subject to Administrative Citations as set forth in Chapter 2.62
11.05.030     Seizure of Fireworks.
        Any peace officer, fire marshal or the Richmond Fire Chief or his or her designee, may seize, take, remove or cause to be removed any fireworks possessed, used, stored or displayed in violation of this chapter.
SECTION 2.    Any provisions of the Richmond Municipal Code, or appendices thereto, or any other ordinance or the City inconsistent herewith, to the extent of such inconsistencies and no further, are hereby repealed.
SECTION 3.    Severability.  If any section, subsection, subdivision, paragraph, sentence, clause or phrase of this Ordinance is for any reason held to be unconstitutional or invalid, such a decision shall not affect the validity of the remaining portions of this ordinance. The City Council hereby declares that it would have passed each section, subsection, subdivision, paragraph, sentence, clause or phrase of this ordinance irrespective of the unconstitutionality or invalidity of any section, subsection, subdivision, paragraph, sentence, clause or phrase.
SECTION 4.   Effective Date. This Ordinance becomes effective 30 days after its final passage and adoption.