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Rohnert Park voters favoring ban on personal fireworks

Press Democrat reporters recap the recall election in a Facebook Live video at bit.ly/2VKTyUD

A measure banning personal fireworks had strong voter support in Rohnert Park on Tuesday as returns as of early Wednesday showed 57.3% favoring the ban that prompted an emotionally charged campaign over the summer.

If Measure D is approved in the county’s third-largest city, Cloverdale would remain the last of Sonoma County’s nine cities allowing nonprofit groups to sell the state-approved fireworks that accompany July Fourth festivities.

The results had 42.7% of voters in the Friendly City in favor of continuing to allow the sale and use of what are known as “safe and sane” fireworks. About 1,450 votes separated supporters of a ban from opponents.

The vote came as heat, drought and bone-dry woodlands put Californians on edge like never before, with 7,000 wildfires scorching more than 3,000 square miles from the Canadian to the Mexican border.

“Oh, thank God,” Mayor Gerard Giudice said upon hearing the results after emerging from a marathon council meeting on homelessness. “I’m really thankful the folks in Rohnert Park realize the conditions we’re in.”

Giudice said it was too soon to predict the measure would pass, but if it does, he will reach out to the local nonprofits that feared loss of revenue from annual fireworks sales.

The Graton Rancheria has pledged $1.2 million a year to a charitable foundation to help cover the groups’ losses, he said.

“The money is there,” Giudice said.

In April, the City Council voted 3-2 to ban fireworks sales, but supporters of the sales gathered enough signatures to force a citywide vote that could overturn the council’s decision.

The debate turned ugly, as police officers increased patrols outside council members homes in response to concerns about their safety.

Late on July 4, Councilman Willy Linares said he woke up to find a garbage can outside his home filled with fireworks and set ablaze.

Social media posts and online pages dedicated to the proposed ban devolved into personal attacks and allegations of conspiracies. Vendors at some fireworks stands said they were harassed by ban supporters.

Vice Mayor Jackie Elward said some comments were inflammatory, accusing her of trying to destroy the city she represents and inciting reckless use of fireworks.

Virginia Sweeney, a retiree who lives at the far eastern edge of the city, said her support for the ban was based on a wildfire that prompted her evacuation three times.

“It’s that fire coming at you,” she said Tuesday at the Rohnert Park Community Center polling place. “Nobody deserves that.“

Most people will enjoy ground-based fireworks safely, Sweeney said, “but there’s always idiots who will use them irresponsibly.”

“I don’t think we need ”em,“ said Steve B., who declined to give his last name. ”Give the birds and pets a break.“

“When it comes to fire risk there are no ”safe and sane“ fireworks,” former mayors Gina Belforte and Greg Nordin wrote in a Press Democrat commentary last month.

Harvey Atkins, who voted against the measure, said the holiday pyrotechnics are “inspiring to continue to support our patriotism and the Founding Fathers.”

Cloverdale City Councilman Joe Palla said residents in the county’s northernmost city are watching the vote in Rohnert Park.

The idea of a ban hasn’t been broached recently, said Palla, who was in the minority on a 3-2 vote that thwarted a fireworks prohibition in 2009.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @guykovner.

Press Democrat reporters recap the recall election in a Facebook Live video at bit.ly/2VKTyUD

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