Pacifica looks to snuff out problems with fireworks

One of only two cities on the Peninsula that allows the sale of fireworks, Pacifica is hoping to impose strict guidelines on the use of pyrotechnics for the first time in its city history.

Along with San Bruno, Pacifica allows the sale of “safe and sane” fireworks, a rule that has been supported by youth sports leagues and decried by safety workers. But the two sides are reaching a compromise in an ordinance that will place limitations on the activity in time for Independence Day.

The Fireworks Task Force, formed in September by supporters and opponents of fireworks, is proposing to limit the hours when fireworks can be sold and discharged, restrict rockets from being fired over someone’s property without their permission, require that a minor with fireworks be accompanied by an adult and institute a fine of at least $200 for noncompliance.

“We’re laying out more clear guidelines on the use and sale of fireworks because it was never delineated before,” Pacifica police Chief Jim Saunders said. “Without some rules, we were battling this all year-round.”

Saunders said that the majority of what’s fired off in Pacifica is illegal fireworks, often of commercial grade. In 2006, police arrested 65 people after a successful undercover operation. Last year, police arrested 25.

Getting rid of fireworks completely is a hard sell in Pacifica, officials say, because it provides a financial boost for local youth groups and sports leagues. Selling fireworks also brings in as much as two-thirds of the athletics program’s budget to Pacifica’s high schools, Terra Nova High School football coach Bill Gray said.

“It’s a quick way to earn money for nonprofits and youth groups — some of them make as much as 30 to 40 percent of their annual budget in thatone week [surrounding Independence Day],” said Mike O’Neill, local Realtor and Pacifica School District board member. “Combining it with the cuts in education, you’re whittling away at more and more ways to raise money for young people.”

Pacifica vendors pay the city almost $600 for a permit and 8 percent of their profits to cover the cost of enforcement by city agencies, which last year amounted to $33,000. But while Pacifica doesn’t lose money during the event, its neighboring cities suffer the consequences, police say.

“The new ordinance may make it better for citizens of Pacifica, but the fact that they are still selling fireworks there doesn’t help our cause at all,” South San Francisco police Chief Mark Raffaelli said.

svasilyuk@sfexaminer.com

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