By LORI A. CARTER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Petaluma City Council members have approved one more day of fireworks sales next year, but critics of personal pyrotechnics say the controversial issue wasn’t properly publicized before the vote.
Petaluma resident Sheri Cardo, who has urged the council in the past to ban fireworks sales and use in the city, complained that the fireworks ordinance was buried within a dry, 48-page agenda item on adopting a new fire code.
“This has been a very controversial issue in Petaluma for many years, and yet, it seems to have been hidden in a fire code agenda item, with no way for the public to ascertain that the revised code contained a change to the number of days of sale,” she said.
She said the agenda released early last week lacked supporting documents that “would have informed the public of the scope of this item.” A later agenda with a full staff report available online did reference changes in city ordinances governing fireworks sales and use.
Even supporters of an extra day of fireworks sales didn’t realize the issue was to be discussed Monday night.
But Dick Sharke, who operates a booth to raise funds for the North McDowell Drug Task Force and has advocated for a fifth sales day, was pleased with the result.
“No, I didn’t see anything about it (on the agenda),” he said. “But we got the fifth day? That’s a blessing.”
The item passed 4-2, with Mayor David Glass and Councilwoman Teresa Barrett opposed and Councilwoman Kathy Miller recusing herself because she is active in one of the nonprofit vendors.
Nonprofit organizations operate booths in Petaluma and elsewhere as fundraisers, often their only or primary fund-raising of the year.
The fifth day of sales matches other jurisdictions’ rules, which Petaluma booth operators said they needed to stay competitive. It is only legal to use the fireworks on one day, July 4, in Petaluma.
City Manager John Brown acknowledged the agenda item was not highlighted as an amendment to the fireworks regulations, but said the city had discussed several times that changes to those codes should be done within the overall fire code rewrite.
Monday’s vote was a first reading of the ordinance. It must come back for a second vote before it could go into effect. That vote is scheduled for Nov. 18, when any member of the community or council can ask that it be removed from the routine agenda for public discussion.
But Cardo said she may speak at the Nov. 4 meeting and ask the council to reconsider the issue once the public has become aware of the hearing date.
The issue is clearly still controversial. Glass accused Councilman Chris Albertson of “flip-flopping” and being a “political windsock” on fireworks for voting to allow a fifth sales day.
As fire chief, Albertson lobbied for a citywide ban on the sale of state-approved “safe and sane” fireworks because of their potential fire danger.
Albertson, who like Glass is running for reelection in November 2014, said he is still opposed to fireworks of any kind.
“I’m in favor of a complete ban, and that’s a fact,” he said. “But I’m also a realist. This community is not going to support a ban, it’s just that clear.”
Albertson said instead, he agreed to support an extra day and a process to eventually eliminate fireworks sales through attrition.
The council agreed to cap the number of permits issued next year to 18 and to issue no new ones.
If a group relinquishes its permit, it will expire.
(You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)