With Independence Day just around the corner, the Livermore City Council this month approved an ordinance amending the city's established municipal code to include additional prohibitions and penalties related to fireworks.
The Livermore Police Department introduced the ordinance to the council during its May 8 regular meeting, and the council approved it as part of its consent calendar at its May 22 meeting.
The approved amendments to Livermore's current fireworks ordinance include a social hosting provision and the discretion to use administrative fines and penalties that city officials say aim to improve the police department's ability to enforce fireworks related statutes and discourage the use of fireworks within the city altogether.
The social hosting provision would hold hosts liable for the actions of their guests on their property -- or within the public right-of-way adjacent to their property -- when an individual violator cannot be identified.
Using observations and information from other sources, such as witness statements and fireworks debris, officers can issue an administrative citation to the homeowner or person in charge of the gathering. Fines would not exceed $500. Additional penalties could also include cost recovery fees related to the law enforcement response, according to the city staff report.
While the sale, possession and use of all fireworks is illegal in the city of Livermore, LPD says it receives numerous complaints about fireworks each year -- especially around the Fourth of July holiday. The reported concerns are typically around noise and potential fire dangers.
City officials noted in their staff report that they expect nearly 100 complaints of illegal fireworks on the Fourth of July this year, an increase from last year which saw 87 complaints -- none of which resulted in citations.
Throughout the entire year of 2022, LPD received a total of 298 fireworks complaints, according to a presentation by the department to the City Council on May 8.
When the ordinance was first proposed, Councilmember Evan Branning expressed concern about whether the fines could potentially disproportionately impact economically disadvantaged residents and Councilmember Bob Carling questioned how social hosts are identified if violators are on city property such as the middle of a street.
They both also emphasized the importance of thoroughly educating the community on the change. But overall, the council expressed support for the effort to address the illegal use of fireworks in the city before adopting the ordinance two weeks later.
"We're not going to target people in lower socioeconomic status, but this is about protecting our community and we get a lot of complaints about this where people say that they're living in a war zone," Mayor John Marchand said, noting that the city is entrusting the police department to use these strategies wisely.
"As members of this council, our No. 1 priority -- as we've said over and over again -- is public safety. So I will continue to support giving you whatever tools you believe you need to continue to protect this community," Marchand added, addressing the LPD officials in attendance at the meeting.
Prior to this new ordinance, police said they have faced challenges enforcing fireworks regulations in the city due to state law which requires the offense be committed in the officer's presence. City staff said their experience has shown that violators rarely sell, openly possess or use fireworks directly in front of a police officer, thus limiting the officer's authority to take action on suspected violations.
Additionally, people who report complaints about fireworks to the police often have limited details about who or where exactly the fireworks were discharged from.
In researching ways to mitigate these obstacles, city staff and LPD identified the social hosting provision and administrative fines as strategies that are not subject to the strict requirements of state law for officers to personally observe the offense as these methods allow officers to handle the violations as administrative actions as opposed to criminal actions.