PD Editorial: Yes on Measure D, choose safety over tradition

Editorials represent the views of The Press Democrat editorial board and The Press Democrat as an institution. The editorial board and the newsroom operate separately and independently of one another.

If you are a voter in Rohnert Park and haven’t made up your mind about banning fireworks, consider these questions:

— Are you confident that people handle fireworks responsibly?

— Does Rohnert Park’s combined police and fire department have the resources to stop people from using illegal fireworks or misusing legal fireworks?

— In the event of a fire, could firefighters reach your home promptly?

Fireworks are fun, they’re an Independence Day tradition, and selling them is an easy way for philanthropic groups to raise money. They’re also a dangerous nuisance, sparking fires and sending people to the emergency room with burns and other injuries.

Which brings us to the most salient question: Are fireworks worth the risk?

The Rohnert Park City Council said no, and we concur. In April, the council voted 3-2 to outlaw personal fireworks, leaving Cloverdale as the only Sonoma County city where they are legal. TNT, a fireworks manufacturer, bankrolled a petition campaign that postponed enforcement of the new law pending a Sept. 14 special election.

A yes vote on Measure D upholds the ban on fireworks. A no vote makes Rohnert Park a destination for anyone seeking legal fireworks — or cover for using illegal fireworks.

In 2018, fireworks caused about 19,500 fires in the United States, resulting in five civilian deaths and $105 million of property damage, according to a 2020 report by the National Fire Protection Association. No day has more human-caused fires than the Fourth of July.

Eighteen people died in fireworks-related incidents last year, and 15,600 people were treated in emergency rooms, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

In Rohnert Park, fireworks caused eight fires on July 4, according to Public Safety Chief Tim Mattos. No structures burned this year, but authorities blamed bottle rockets for a July 4, 2011 fire that torched the roofs of a Rohnert Park apartment complex, leaving 32 people homeless.

Measure D opponents try to blame all the problems on illegal fireworks, such as bottle rockets, but legal fireworks cause fires, too, including a 2003 blaze that destroyed a Santa Rosa home. And health care professionals say legal fireworks are responsible for many of the burns they see around the Fourth of July each year.

As for enforcement, Rohnert Park police and firefighters wrote just 11 tickets this year despite receiving 350 complaints by phone and via a TNT-funded app that crashed during peak fireworks hours. Mattos said crowded streets make it difficult for officers to get around town, resulting in slower responses to 911 calls.

Aside from TNT, organized opposition to Measure D comes from about a dozen nonprofit groups that collectively raise about $324,000 a year through fireworks sales for youth sports and other worthwhile community programs.

Nonprofit groups elsewhere found new ways to raise money when fireworks were outlawed. In Rohnert Park, they don’t have to hunt. The city gets $1.2 million a year from the Graton Rancheria Casino, and the money is earmarked for community benefits. The City Council pledged a share of that money to the nonprofit groups, and endorsed plans for a professional fireworks show.

One by one, Sonoma County and most of its cities asked themselves whether tradition outweighs the threat of catastrophic wildfires, and each has picked safety over fireworks. It’s time for Rohnert Park to do the same. The Press Democrat recommends a yes vote on Measure D.

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Editorials represent the views of The Press Democrat editorial board and The Press Democrat as an institution. The editorial board and the newsroom operate separately and independently of one another.

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