Rules Committee Looks at Illegal Fireworks, Lobbyist Report

Twenty years ago, the city tried to tamp down on illegal bottle rockets and firecrackers leading up to Fourth of July festivities. It seems downright quaint compared to the aerial shells people now fire off during the summer months.

A handful of city leaders want to hike up penalties for illegal fireworks, given that complaints and injuries are becoming increasingly common. Current law allows fines of up to $1,000 and jail time, but that only sticks after criminal prosecution.

In a memo submitted to this week’s Rules and Open Government Committee, council members Sam Liccardo, Pete Constant, Johnny Khamis and Rose Herrera ask the city to explore the idea of increasing administrative fines for illegal fireworks. That would give public works and non-police staff the authority to levy fines for violations of the fireworks ordinance.

“The month-long use of illegal fireworks every summer has long drawn the ire of many residents, particularly in neighborhoods characterized by more vulnerable older, wood-frame houses, and with many pet owners,” the shared memo states.

City staff fielded more than 2,000 calls between June and July related to illegal fireworks. And many people this year were hurt. In San Jose this summer, a 10-year-old boy mangled his hand and three men blew off their fingers.

According to this memo, people buy massive amounts of illegal fireworks online and have them shipped by independent truckers.

“Statewide, use of illegal fireworks has increased in many cities due to the sheer increase in quantity and accessibility of illegal products, and because of the lack of any credible threat posed by their illegal use,” the report says, citing an industry newsletter.

“[W]ith arrests happening very rarely, it currently appears impossible to deter the behavior,” their shared memo states. “As criminologist James Q. Wilson observed, the severity of a penalty does far less to deter harmful conduct than the certainty and swiftness of that penalty.”

More from the San Jose Rules and Open Government Committee agenda for August 20, 2014:

  • The city’s federal lobbyists, retained through Squire Patton Boggs for $40,000 a quarter, will present their mid-year report. (On a related note: San Jose Inside will meet with these lobbyists on Thursday. Feel free to leave questions you’d like us to ask them in the comments section.)
  • The circus is coming to town, and so are animal rights protesters. In a pair of letters to the Rules Committee, they ask San Jose to boycott the Ringling Bros. Circus and include reminders of their past violations for animal cruelty.
  • David Wall wonders if the “spineless, wimpy, crybaby infested Council” will clean up St. James Park and who really stands to gain from a new music pavilion.
  • San Jose aims to join the League of California Cities in a resolution asking Gov. Jerry Brown to address the “devastating environmental impacts” of illegal marijuana grows.
  • San Jose plans to take no position on a proposed state medical marijuana bill. SB 1262, by Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana) and Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), would regulate doctors, collectives, cultivation sites and processing facilities.

WHAT: Rules and Open Government Committee meets
WHEN: 2pm Wednesday
WHERE: City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose
INFO: City Clerk, 408.535.1260

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. With reference to “Squire Patten Boggs,” Mayor Reed really likes this group. Patten Boggs has been on the “city dime” for many years.

    Whereas Patton Boggs does produce a nice “newsletter,” they are wholly ineffective. Please read the attached memorandum to “RULES” that Jenn W has included and draw your own conclusions.

    Patton Boggs is just a “High-end lobbyist firm” who take credit for issues that would have occurred without their perceived influence.

    San José’s representatives in Congress and the Senate really represent the “big money interests” of Santa Clara Valley. And that is what drives issues like the “Global Entry Kiosk, the Patent Office, transportation issues, water and the environment issues, etcetera after etcetera.”

    San José just happens to have the only International airport and a Council that will “give-away-the-shop,” at great costs to the taxpayers, to entice entities to relocate here and or voluntarily accept and fund Federal priorities as a form of “brown-nosing” for future “considerations.”

    In my opinion (which has not changed over many years), Patten Boggs isn’t worth a “wooden nickel” and their services should have been terminated many years ago. But, Mayor Reed and his cronies with the Silicon Valley Leadership Group have a different opinion.

    David S. Wall

  2. > (On a related note: San Jose Inside will meet with these lobbyists on Thursday. Feel free to leave questions you’d like us to ask them in the comments section.)

    Could you ask them to lobby the Obama Administration to defund all High Speed Rail projects west of the Mississippi and south of the Canadian border?

    High Speed Rail is destroying vital habitat for California burrowing owls, delta smelt, checkerspot butterflies, and furbish louseworts.

    Plus all the carbon dioxide released by all the concrete construction needed for the High Speed Rail will contribute to global warming.

  3. “…the severity of a penalty does far less to deter harmful conduct than the certainty and swiftness of that penalty.”

    There you have it, SJPD needs more boots on the ground… Not increased fines. Rufas’ circus majority continues the misinformation march. Public Works and non-police staff will be lynched trying to write these scofflaws tickets…

  4. Kathleen Flynn posted a while back that she witnessed an SJPD officer roll up on an illegal fireworks display, then park to watch it with his son who was sitting in the front seat.

    While her and I disagree on this, I think the council has a better chance of helping the city profit from this situation than deterrence. Over the last decade I’ve watched these private shows become ever increasingly brazen, with more money being thrown at these shows every year(our neighborhood block captain spent close to $3k last year.. It was awesome)

    Force those that want to light off mortars to pay for city “training and certification” to light these mortars off. Make them pay for permits. Then use the revenue created from permits and training for enforcement against non trained and certified shows.

    Otherwise it will be more of the same. Nobody fears a toothless dog.

  5. “That would give public works and non-police staff the authority to levy fines for violations of the fireworks ordinance.”

    That’s right…. give a non – officer the power to cite someone who more than likely has been drinking, who apparently doesn’t give a damn about the law and hope and pray this person does not attack the “non-police” and cause him/her injury. Good job to council members Sam (Cheaties) Liccardo, Johnny (I’m going to Copenhagen) Khamis, Pete (Quadruple Dip) Constant and Rose (I Look Stupid in a Bike Helmet) Herrera.

    You can do much more by hiring more police to take care of this and other crime but you can’t because you created Measure B that only voters can change and that can’t be done u til the next general election which won’t be for another 2 years. In the meantime San Jose will continue to bleed employees and years of experience that can’t be replaced. Thank you…Each and every one of for what you have done to this city.

  6. A note to “… public works and non-police staff (who are destined to be given) the authority to levy fines for violations of the fireworks ordinance…”

    Use the power that is about to be conferred on you wisely – Work as many “overtime enforcement shifts” as you can and do as little as possible.

    Any enforcement action you take will put you in serious jeopardy of injury or even death at the hands of “celebrants” accurately described by poster “Michael Roberts” (see above) .

    In the event a scofflaw takes offense at your attempts to placate the myriad of “anonymous reporting parties” who wish “no contact” from “enforcers” run very fast and get out of the area ASAP.

    Please gather as much information on the aggressors as you are able. If you make it away unscathed notify the woefully understaffed SJPD Dispatch Center and report that you are now the victim of a crime – SJPD will (maybe) send officers or “community service officers” to take a report “IF” there are any available due to current under staffing conditions.

    The Meyer

    (editors note: It is amazing that this Blue Ribbon Fireworks Suppression Commission (Sam Liccardo, Pete Constant, Johnny Khamis and Rose Herrera) ALL lead or supported actions that have resulted in the police department being even more understaffed than it was before they started meddling.

    Now they constructively acknowledge that SJPD is so understaffed that it cannot be tasked with addressing the fireworks problem by suggesting that non-police officers be tasked with law enforcement!!! They are willfully ignorant of the work that they are creating for SJPD and of the danger they are placing “public works and non-police staff” in.)

  7. Thats awesome. Can I have a ringside seat when one of the “citizen enforcers” comes to Alviso next year to stop the fireworks show? That would be hilarious.

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