Contra Costa Supervisors pass fireworks ordinance, prepare for hot, dry summer

Photo by CCCSheriff.

Mitchoff questions holding July 4th parades; approve funds to address illegal dumping

By Daniel Borsuk

Fourth of July celebrations are around the corner and the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday took a strident step in minimizing fires by unanimously passing a stronger fireworks ordinance that pins financial liability on owners of property and vessels where fireworks are used in unincorporated areas of the county.

Recognizing the extreme dry vegetation conditions the county now faces due to low winter rain fall, supervisors passed the ordinance as a consent item without hearing citizen comments on Ordinance No. 2021-19 that amends the county’s fireworks ordinance, Chapter 44-2 of the County Ordinance Code.

Contra Costa County received only 30 percent of average rainfall, said Brian Garcia, a National Weather Service meteorologist.  “The fuels that we have for fire this year are already at record levels. It’s really bad already and we’re not at the peak of the fire season.”

Conditions are so dry, Contra Costa County Fire Protection District Deputy Fire Chief Aaron McAlister said, “Whether its moderate, high or very high, the risks are here in this county. We definitely have that potential that existed south of us and north of us in previous years. That potential now exists here in Contra Costa County.”

Under the new ordinance, property and vessel owners are responsible for ensuring that the use of illegal fireworks does not occur on their property.  Owners may be liable for ordinance violations if illegal fireworks are used on their property or vessel.

Board Chair Diane Burgis of Brentwood was the supervisor who shepherd the tougher fireworks ordinance, citing an increase in fireworks violations in her District 3 area.

“Illegal fireworks are a drain on our system,” Burgis said. “We simply don’t have the resources to address this continued problem. I would encourage cities and towns to adopt stronger ordinances and send the message that illegal fireworks will not be tolerated in Contra Costa County.”

“Due to unseasonably dry fuel conditions in Contra Costa County, we urge the public to take every precaution to prevent wildfires,” said Contra Costa County Fire Department Chief Lewis T. Brouschard III. “The use of illegal fireworks caused a recent fire in our county that destroyed two apartment buildings and displaced 30 residents. Playing with illegal fireworks is dangerous and poses the very real possibility of causing wildland fires that could easily destroy homes and threaten lives in this time of critically high fire risk.  We urge everyone to follow the regulations and stay safe.”

“Illegal fireworks in our county continually pose a threat to the safety of our communities,” said East Contra Costa Fire Protection District Fire Chief Brian Helmick in a press release. “On behalf of the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District, we would like to thank Supervisor Burgis for taking these necessary actions to curb the use of illegal fireworks and for helping to protect all citizens who have been impacted by illegal fireworks.”

Passage of the fireworks ordinance, a supervisors’ meeting consent item that did not draw public comment.

According to the supervisors’ agenda background information:

“Chapter 44-2 of the County Ordinance Code prohibits the possession, manufacture, sale, use and discharge of fireworks in the unincorporated areas of the County. The Sheriff and fire department in the County receive numerous calls for service each year stemming from illegal fireworks, including calls to address vegetation fires, structure and exterior fires, personal injury or death, and noise or other public nuisances.

“The proposed ordinance would amend Chapter 44-2 and authorize the Sheriff to arrest and cite a responsible party as defined in the ordinance, for violations of Chapter 44-2.   The proposed ordinance established that a responsible party is required to maintain, manage and supervise the property or vessel for which they are responsible to prevent violations of Chapter 44-2. A responsible party is liable and violates the prohibition on fireworks under Chapter 44-2 if any person possesses, manufactures, sells, offers to sell, uses, or discharges, any fireworks at the property, or on the vessel, for which the responsible part is responsible, regardless of whether the responsible party is present when the violation occurs.

“The proposed ordinance defines a responsible party as any of the following:

  1. A person that owns, rents, leases, or otherwise has possession of, or is in immediate control of a residence or other private property or a vessel.
  2. A person that organizes, supervises, sponsors, conducts, allows, controls, or controls access to the possession, manufacture, sale, offer for sale, use, or discharge of fireworks at a residence or other private property or on a vessel.

“If a residence or other private is rented or leased for a period of more than 30 consecutive days, the landlord or lessor is not a responsible party unless the landlord or lessor: has possession of, or is in immediate control of, the residence or other private property; or has knowledge of the possession, manufacture, sale, offer for sale, sue, or discharge of fireworks at the residence or other private property.

The owner of a residence that is rented for a period of 30 consecutive days or less (a short-term rental) is a responsible party and is liable for violations of Chapter 44-2 if the short-term renter, or any other person, possesses, manufactures, sells, offers to sell, uses, or discharges, any fireworks at the residence, regardless of whether they owner of the short-term rental is present when the violation occurs.”

Mitchoff Questions Holding July 4th Parades

At one point during the meeting, Supervisor Karen Mitchoff of Pleasant Hill questioned the wisdom of cities permitting July 4th parades at least this year even though the county and all other counties will be off the Centers for Disease Control color tier system effective June 15.

“If you have not been vaccinated, people need to take this seriously for one more year,” said the supervisor. “There are communities that think they can handle this.  I am not so sure that is the case. The public needs to take this seriously. People will show up at parades and will be unvaccinated.”

Contra Costa County Deputy Health Director Ori Tzvilell said the state’s mask mandate will be relaxed effective June 15 “only if everyone has been vaccinated.”  Mask requirements will remain in place for retail businesses, he noted.

County Chief Equity Officer Gilbert Salinas said the health department will conduct a mobile vaccination unit in a census tract in Antioch (North of Highway 4 from L Street to Sommerville Road) to vaccinate about 16,000 unvaccinated persons on June 11.

Salinas said future mobile vaccination activities are planned for Antioch Park, Antioch Middle School and Pittsburg City Park.

Stormwater Utility Assessments Approved

Even in severe drought conditions, supervisors had to think about the potential of stormwater pollution issues, especially funding. Supervisors approved assessments for Stormwater Utility Areas 1 through 18 that will provide $15,914,283 in funding for the cities and county for the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System program and drainage maintenance activities during fiscal year 2021-2022.

Approve Initial Illegal Dumping Funds

In other action, supervisors launched the county’s Illegal Dumping Initiative with the allocation of $350,000. “This is exciting,” said Burgis, who served as one of the key catalysts to jump start the initiative three years ago.

The board’s action instructs that $200,000 of the $350,000 will be spent for the installation of lighting and $150,000 will be directed to remove 50 derelict boats and recreational vehicles during the current 2021-2022 fiscal year.

Burgis and District 5 Supervisor Federal Glover were key players in initiating in 2018 the formation of an interdepartmental “Think Tank” team of professionals from county departments to propose how to address the illegal dumping problems.  County departments involved in the Think Tank are the Sheriff’s Office, the District Attorney’s Office, the Department of Public Works, the Environmental Health Division of the Health Services Department and the Department of Conservation and Development.

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