Off without a bang

Tabling an effort to legalize fireworks is a no-brainer for now

Last week, an industry representative tried his best to persuade the Chico City Council to legalize state-approved fireworks—aka “safe and sane” fireworks—within city limits. Included in his pitch: The city would rake in $2,000-$3,000 in permit fees, $5,000 in sales tax and an additional $35,000 from a special fireworks surcharge (read: tax) of 7 percent. Meanwhile, the nonprofits chosen to run 16 stands would bring in about $13,000 each in sales. Further, legalizing fireworks would cut down on the amount of dangerous out-of-state varieties (i.e., bottle rockets, Cherry Bombs, M80s) that are purchased and set off locally.

Another narrative presented at the meeting is that fireworks are legal in most of the communities surrounding Chico and in 296 communities statewide. Folks are already buying them and setting them off illegally, noted Councilman Andrew Coolidge, the man behind the plan. In other words, why not legalize pyrotechnics here and reap the rewards?

We can think of several pretty substantive reasons why not to, especially this year.

First off, fireworks start fires. That’s a fact. Second, we’re in the midst of a drought and entering what’s sure to be a long fire season. Third, there are too many unknowns (how to enforce the ban, how much that enforcement would cost, how vulnerable our environment is, etc.). Fourth, the city is still clawing its way out of debt and cannot afford to pay city personnel the overtime that a plan like this likely would require. Fifth, we don’t think city staffers’ time should be dedicated to investigating the ramifications of legalizing fireworks. It’s not a wise use of taxpayer money. We could go on …

The point being, this is a case of really bad timing—both because July 4 is coming up quickly and because our environment is so parched. Many people like fireworks. We like fireworks. But for now, we think the council’s move to table this issue is a wise one. Getting funding for nonprofits and the city coffers is a noble cause, but picking the low-hanging fruit for what’s a nominal amount of funding is not worth the risk that selling fireworks creates.