City Council ponders fireworks ordinance

Illegal fireworks sold in Mexico

A public hearing was held Sept. 6 on an ordinance regulating the use of fireworks in Keizer which the state of Oregon designates as illegal.

The city has received a high volume of complaints of people setting off unauthorized fireworks inside the city limits before and after this last July 4 holiday weekend, and the issue has been raised by citizens appearing both at prior council sessions as well as other committee meetings. After it came up during the Aug. 15 session, the council directed City Attorney Shannon Johnson to draft an ordinance for review.

The ordinance, in its current form, makes it a municipal offense to possess unauthorized fireworks inside Keizer.

“We don’t currently have it as a municipal offense, so that makes it difficult to prosecute,” said Johnson.

Another stipulation of the proposed ordinance is to criminalize possession of the illegal fireworks during “red flag warning” periods, such as when the state declares a fire emergency in the area.

Additionally, the ordinance will add a further penalty for anyone allowing illegal fireworks to be set off on their property, although Johnson said this may be difficult to enforce because most people use the street in front of their residences for that activity.

Johnson said the final segment of the ordinance was intentionally left blank, because at the time he was directed to produce it, the council had not reached a consensus on the issue of whether, if any, fireworks would be permitted during certain times and when those would be designated.

“The issue of illegal fireworks is not only an issue of danger, they are also much louder than authorized fireworks,” he said.

Councilor Roland Herrera agreed, and said they had become much louder in recent years. He said he had received complaints from pet-owners in the area about it, and he was concerned for his own dogs. His question for Johnson was if most of the fireworks are being set off in the street, how would the ordinance help?

Johnson said the city is already able to cite individuals for using unauthorized fireworks in the street, but the ordinance could further deter the activity by citing property owners in addition to the individual on the street.

“If they set them off in their driveway, for example, we could cite both the individual lighting the fireworks and the property owner,” he said.

The issue of what time of day fireworks would be allowed, with the exception of New Years Eve and the July 4 weekend, was settled by matching it up with the existing noise ordinance.

“If we had fireworks as part of the noise ordinance, that would make life a lot easier for us,” said Keizer Police Chief John Teague. “With the exception of the holidays, the city’s noise ordinance goes from 10 p.m. until 7 a.m.”

Discussion hit a snag when Teague raised a concern surrounding the restriction on the sale or possession of any kind of fireworks during red flag warnings, asking if that meant the fireworks vendors would be forced to close.

“I don’t really care if they are purchasing them or possess them, I just don’t want them setting them off during red flag periods or after 10 p.m.,” said Mayor Cathy Clark.

The other councilors largely agreed with Clark, and Johnson said he would work with Chief Teague to clarify the language in the proposed ordinance.