September 19, 2021
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Sebastopol Council moves forward with fireworks ban

By: Brandon McCapes
May 7, 2021

Having been one of only three cities in Sonoma County to permit the use of “Safe & Sane” fireworks in the week leading up to the Fourth of July, the City of Sebastopol will soon ban the sale and use of all fireworks within city limits.

At their meeting Tuesday, the city council introduced an ordinance that will repeal and replace parts of the Sebastopol Municipal Code and Uniform Fire Code, and negate any conflicting resolutions pertaining to the permission of certain firework sale and use in the city.

The ordinance, which is expected to be adopted at the next city council meeting, will leave Cloverdale the only city to continue to permit fireworks, as Rohnert Park considers a similar ban.

The fireworks ban first came to the council on April 6, where the issue of the sale of legal fireworks by non-profit organizations operating within the city limits of Sebastopol was raised. Non-profit groups, which are able to sell certain fireworks from June 28 through July 4 in typical years, raised concerns over the abolition of an important fundraising mechanism. For some non-profits, fireworks sales account for the majority of their annual income.

In May of last year, citing the pandemic-related concerns over large gatherings around the Fourth of July holiday, the city council enacted a temporary ban on fireworks.

In addition to fears of large gatherings organized around fireworks spreading the Covid-19 virus, in the short term at least, the ordinance cites increased fire risk evidenced by destructive fire seasons over the past four years as a reason to move forward with the ban.

Members of the public at the April 6 meeting also raised concerns over the noise of the fireworks, which can trigger symptoms in those suffering from PTSD while creating panic among animals, according to the staff report.

 “The county as a whole has seen large fires, as evidenced by such examples as the 2017 Tubbs and Nuns Fires, the 2019 Kincade Fire, and 2020 Glass Fire, and the risk posed by wildfire is anticipated to magnify due to climate change; and the Sebastopol General Plan states the Safety Element provides the framework to reduce risks associated with a range of environmental and human-caused hazards that may pose a risk to life and property in Sebastopol,” the resolution reads.

Gov. Gavin Newsom recently declared a drought in Sonoma and Mendocino Counties, prompting fears of yet another record-setting wildfire season.

Under the ordinance, any fireworks display would have to be permitted directly by Sebastopol Fire Department Chief Bill Braga. The language of the ordinance was ambivalent regarding the number of events that would be permitted and who would be allowed to host the event. 

“In discussing with the other cities in how they’re managing an annual show, my concern was I didn’t want to say it would only be one event. If another non-profit wanted to something similar to assist with their organization, I didn’t want to say no to everybody and permit only one,” Braga said.

Traditionally, the Kiwanis Club of Sebastopol holds an annual July 3 fireworks show at Analy High School. Council members ultimately decided to permit only one firework show per calendar year and will look for ways to assist other non-profits who have historically relied on the income generated through fireworks sales. 

“How might we be able to expand any event that we do have so that it encompasses all of them, or provides a venue for getting them all supported in different ways?” Mayor Una Glass asked.

Suggestions included allowing non-profits to sell food or table booths at the event.

Discussion over how the host of the sole annual fireworks display would be selected revolved around the prospect of a lottery. Council member Patrick Slayter said that the lottery system could present problems if the non-profit selected turned out to be unable to pull off organization of the town’s only permitted Fourth of July fireworks display.

Staff will work to address these issues before the item is brought back on May 18.