San Jose Reverses 45 Citations for Fireworks Based on Snitching

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.

Josh Koehn is the managing editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to josh@metronews.com or follow him on Twitter at @Josh_Koehn.

15 Comments

  1. Was this amendment to the municipal code vetted by the city attorney? If not, why not? If so, yet another example of the continuing incompetence of his office.

    • JMO, An equally interesting question is where is it written that Norberto has the unilateral authority to rescind administrative fines. And if he can do it here, under what circumstances can he do elsewhere? What are the disclosure requirements? How will the $22,500 revenue loss be recorded?

      Inquiring minds want to know – and appropriate for a civil grand jury review.

  2. “The City values fairness in the enforcement of our municipal code.”- Norberto Duenas, City Manager

    That’s an amusing fantasy. What this City really values is sitting on their ass unless they’re pressured by complaints.

    • John-““The City values fairness in the enforcement of our municipal code.”- Norberto Duenas, City Manager.” That is a crock! They let all kinds of violations go without punishment or fines.

  3. JMC, Nothing to indicate approval by Rick Doyle. Actually, just the opposite per the MN article. I provided the citation in a previous post.

  4. I seriously doubt that all 45 of these people are innocent of setting off fireworks. We know exactly who sets them off in our neighborhood, and the Police can’t be everywhere to fine them. On another note, it was ridiculous of the Police Chief to assign the majority of the SJPD to cover the legal fireworks displays leaving the rest of us to deal with illegal fireworks.

    Why didn’t they send out Community Service Officers to neighborhoods that are most troubled like D3 for example? .

  5. Like it or not in the United States of America the rules say you can’t convict and fine a person before a trial unless they plead guilty. What county is San Jose in these days?
    Would you treat a transgender illegal alien photograghed committing a lewd act in the street in front of children like this?
    I’ll bet not!
    Probably arrest the photographer.

  6. “Look, in this country it only takes the statement of a witness to convict someone for homicide.”

    This is the kind of stupid analogy you’d expect from a crackhead, not a former prosecutor. The fact that it is not true doesn’t matter to Mr. Liccardo, as the truth has no rating when he’s defending the incompetence of his own administration. That he dared to come out in defense of a program that is indefensible on so many levels can be chalked-up to his expectation of the kid glove treatment he typically receives from the local media (just one more way the news media has failed the citizenry). So what if there were innocents wrongly accused, or guilty citizens denied due process? He’s Sam Liccardo, the mayor put in office by the Mercury News, so how could it matter?

    • I think for a brief, split-second, Liccardo forgot that he created his sanctuary city and that some of the people who touched off the fireworks were illegal aliens who had firecrackers left over from Cinco de Mayo, that city holiday where the law is unenforced for any drunken idiot wearing a Mexican flag t-shirt.

      The Liccardo doctrine: (American holiday = Cite and dismiss) ; (Ethnic holiday = Exhaust police overtime and suspend enforcement altogether).

  7. Neighbor breaks law and puts neighborhood at risk and is reported to police. Reporting neighbor is labeled as ‘rat’ while offending neighbor faces no action. Year, that makes sense if one has a prison mentality. How does this jive with the rationality of sanctuary cities being that the police want people feeling safe to come forward a witnesses to crime. Wouldn’t those people be ‘rats’ too? Is the reporter who wrote this article an ex con?

    • I was also angered by the reporter’s cheap attempt at grabbing some down-with-the-cause street cred, but I didn’t think it through sufficiently to realize the young progressive stepped smack on his own agenda. Maybe our bilingual police chief can pass the word to the illegals that they have nothing to fear from the SJPD, even if they are filthy snitches.

  8. This is a true reflection of the type of society we have become. Its funny when we hear people complaining that not a single police car rolled through their block and they could have easily caught them. Home many blocks are there in the 144 square miles of the city? People and the thug/turds amongst us have finally figured it out. If you act in numbers you can do whatever you want. Whether its sideshows in the middle of the street, drinking and pissing all over a park playground, protesting and vandalizing. The police are outnumbered along with the fact that these same people have become social media warriors, armed with their iphone cameras, ready to get “dirt” on every cop just trying to do his or her job. Society is the problem. Crooked politicians like Sam are just playing the system for his own benefit and the benefit of his developer and lawyer crony friends. The good people amongst us have let this happen and will continue to do so. This is only the tip of the iceberg on how bad things are going to get. If you believe otherwise you are a fool!

  9. It’s funny, the other day I saw on Khamis’s wall one of those “Mural” folks showing a picture of the wall across from Almaden Lake with Graffiti on it, saying, “THIS IS WHY WE NEED THE CITY TO OK MURALS!”

    Well, if the city considers, “Well they’re going to do it anyways” as a legitimate argument for why we should allow murals and utility box painting, then we should apply it fairly and equally to all other arguments. Including fireworks. Only difference is fireworks would be a revenue generator, unlike murals from unknown artists desperately seeking attention.

    Problem with fireworks enforcement is SJPD does not even want to enforce it. I remember a few years back Kathleen Flynn (Who comments above) made a comment about how an officer in a marked car rolled up to her neighborhoods show with his son, parked, and enjoyed the spectacle. We’ll see how long it takes code enforcement to realize this is a no-win, unworkable, unenforceable situation.

    Josh thank you for your stance on this. You seem in support of letting my kids enjoy the 4th like we got to when we were young.

    PS: Been meaning to bitch about this.. The iframe on the comment box is too small, I have to hit tab to get to the “Post comment” button. Maybe increase the height by 300px.

  10. Josh, your cheep shot ” ratted out by neighbors” suggests we should not report crimes committed by those that we know. I guess we are all snitches to report a crime.

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