A pilot program to report illegal fireworks in San Jose has blown up in the city’s face. As a result, fire starters—real and imagined—will receive a pardon.
On Thursday, City manager Norberto Dueñas announced that the online pilot program unfairly issued citations to some of the 45 people who were
ratted out by neighbors reportedly setting off illegal fireworks. A major complaint stemmed from the fact that the appeal process required fines to first be paid. Citations will now be converted to warnings and those who already paid fines will be reimbursed.
“The city values fairness in the enforcement of our municipal code,” Dueñas said. “As it appeared that the criteria for fireworks use citations had not been evenly applied to all 45 citations, the fairest action was to replace the citations and associated fines with a warning letter.”
Residents filed 1,075 online complaints about illegal fireworks between late May and July 12, resulting in 45 citations. These fines were apparently based off of video or photographic evidence, multiple reporting parties directing a finger at the same property and follow-up phone calls. And yet, the process was found to be incomplete and unjust.
“Our message remains that the illegal use of fireworks is a serious safety concern, and we most certainly plan to continue enforcing against the illegal use of fireworks in our community,” Dueñas said.
In an extended interview Thursday morning with Mayor Sam Liccardo—which will be released in full next week—the city’s top elected official defended the online reporting system.
“Look, in this country it only takes the statement of a witness to convict someone for homicide. It doesn’t take a video. It doesn’t take a photo. Nonetheless, we collect videos and photos and lots of other evidence through the online reporting or the other ways somebody wants to report,” Liccardo said. “Clearly, the city manager recognized there were problems in how the program was implemented. But yes, we’re still going to issue citations for folks who are lighting off fireworks in neighborhoods. We’ve seen the impacts.”
San Jose has tried to reduce the lighting of illegal fireworks by bringing back the annual free show—sponsored by San Jose Rotary—at Discovery Meadow. But for anyone who was downtown this past 4th of July, the crackle and pop continued several hours after the last city-sponsored flare was extinguished. And then there were those midnight mortars that continued on in the days to follow.
More information on the pilot program and its failings will come out Aug. 17 at a meeting for the Public Safety, Finance and Strategic Services Committee.
Below is the full press release:
The City of San José is dismissing all 45 citations for illegal use of fireworks that were issued based on complaints submitted through the City’s pilot online fireworks reporting tool in May, June and July of this year. The residents of the addresses that received the mailed citations will instead be issued warning letters. After staff reviews of the citation process over the last few weeks, the decision was made yesterday (August 9) by City Manager Norberto Dueñas and is being communicated to all affected residents. Recipients of the citations who may have already paid fines associated with the citations will be reimbursed.
This year marked the first time citations were issued using information submitted through the pilot online reporting tool, a web app that was available at www.sanjoseca.gov/fireworks. (The form was also up during the July 4, 2016 fireworks season, but elicited fewer submissions that year and no citations were issued.) The online tool was welcomed by residents who seek ways to diminish the significant use of dangerous, commercial grade fireworks in their neighborhoods that widely occurs across the City’s 180-square mile area.
Between late May and July 12, residents filed 1,075 online reports of fireworks use; City staff reviewed the reports and accordingly issued 45 citations. Citations were issued based on the following criteria: the existence of video or photographic evidence, multiple reporting parties pointing to the same property, and/or follow-up phone conversations with the reporting party concerning the verity of their information.
Over the last few weeks, staff have been reviewing the process and criteria for citation issuance, and this review includes listening to the stories of some who felt they received citations unfairly.
“The City values fairness in the enforcement of our municipal code. As it appeared that the criteria for fireworks use citations had not been evenly applied to all 45 citations, the fairest action was to replace the citations and associated fines with a warning letter,” said City Manager Norberto Dueñas. “Our message remains that the illegal use of fireworks is a serious safety concern, and we most certainly plan to continue enforcing against the illegal use of fireworks in our community.”
City staff will continue to review and refine the pilot program and will share future proposed changes to the City’s fireworks enforcement efforts in the weeks and months ahead.
Additional information on the pilot program is available in the staff report that will be heard at the August 17 meeting of the Public Safety, Finance and Strategic Services Committee. The meeting is open to the public.