'Hose down everything, be ready for anything': Residents, city leaders and law enforcement consider ways to curb illegal fireworks

EAST PALO ALTO, Calif. (KGO) -- Since the COVID-19 pandemic has canceled a number of firework events across the Bay Area, the usual booms and bright lights are exploding closer to home.

The danger and disturbance forced some mid-Peninsula cities to meet on Monday to discuss the issue. Illegal firework use fueled Monday's joint Zoom meeting between East Palo Alto and Menlo Park city leaders and law enforcement. Several Palo Alto city officials were also present.

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The hours-long discussion surrounded illegal explosives, and how to stop the behavior before any real destruction.

"Ultimately, it's a community problem," East Palo Alto Councilman Ruben Abrica told ABC7 News. "And we're the ones who really have to engage our own networks, organizations and talk to people if we know who they are. If they're our neighbors, we need to go up to our neighbors."

In neighboring Santa Clara County, the sheriff's office said it's prepared to deploy more deputies and designated strike teams for July 4th weekend. Their focus would be mainly in unincorporated areas.

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"We do have zero tolerance," Sgt. Michael Low explained. "So in other words, absolutely no fireworks are permitted in the county outside of the city of Gilroy."

Sgt. Low said the sheriff's office did not cite or arrest anyone in 2019 for illegal fireworks.

However, it didn't take long for ABC7 News to find several videos, recorded by residents that show pyrotechnics are a problem.

"We're sheltering in place anyway," San Jose resident, Jeff Levine said. "So, I'm here. And it's just, grit your teeth, hose down everything, be ready for anything and hope that you get through it."

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Levine lives in the Roosevelt Park neighborhood, near Downtown San Jose. He has a number of home surveillance cameras which capture the nightly blasts.

The City of San Jose recently launched its annual "Fed up with Fireworks" campaign. It calls on neighbors to snap, click and report the behavior.

"You have to get close enough to shoot a picture, and they know what you're doing," Levine told ABC7 News. "So, you're putting yourself at risk to do the job that the police department should be doing."

ABC7 News reported 2019 data, according to San Jose Fire Department's (SJFD) Public Information Manager, Erica Ray.

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She said there were 1,946 illegal fireworks reports filed online in 2019. Although she added, it's important to note, a large number weren't complete or didn't include enough information for the City to take enforcement actions.

Additionally, SJFD reported, Fourth of July 2019 included:

  • 15 Fires: 7 vegetation, 1 Structure, 2 trash, 5 small outside fires
  • 75-percent increase in actionable reports from 2018 Fourth of July Reporting Period
  • Online reports not containing enough information for the City to take an action dropped by 5-percent
  • Enforcement actions: (In addition to online reporting PD made)
  • 2 Arrests;
  • 1 Field Citation
  • 7 Online Citations
  • Confiscated 300-lbs of Fireworks

For city leaders up north, their fireworks discussion on Monday night considered heightened coordination and current events.

"There has to be a balance here. The police department cannot do it all," Abrica added. "In fact, if we rely too much on the police, I think it runs the risk of exacerbating the situation of the police and community being at odds."

Midpeninsula law enforcement agencies explained the difficulty in firework enforcement surrounds the need to catch people in the act, or handling the illegal equipment.
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