Pacifica's city council is taking measures to resolve a fireworks controversy that has dogged the city for decades.
The council on Oct. 8 approved the formation of a citizen task force to confront the community's concerns about public safety, noise and environmental impact the coastal city experiences related to Fourth of July fireworks.
Pacifica has become a destination for Bay Area residents who can legally set off fireworks on Rockaway and Linda Mar Beaches on the Fourth. Pacifica is among two Peninsula cities that allow the sale of so called "safe and sane" fireworks. San Bruno is the other.
"It's been an issue in this community for years and years, we're talking decades," Pacifica councilmember Ginny Jaquith said. "When I was on the council 20 years ago we were talking about it."
But after years of talking about it, the council will soon consider actually doing something about it.
The yet-to-be named task force will review the community’s growing concerns about the city’s lax fireworks laws. The task force could recommend tweaking, scrapping, or making no changes to those laws. Such recommendations could be the basis for legislative action.
"If there's to be any change people need to be involved in it," Jaquith said of the significance of establishing a fireworks task force.
The council has requested that the city manager's office make recommendations on the makeup and scope of the task force, including whether to return a fireworks task force formed in 2007, or start from scratch.
The task force could consider a wide scope of issues surrounding fireworks, including eliminating the sale of legal fireworks by community groups, banning fireworks on the beach, or even a citywide ban.
"There are a number of options that are available and the idea would be that the task force would take a look at those (options) and make a recommendation to the council," Jaquith said.
But any option is likely to find a tough audience in a deeply divided Pacifica community.
Fireworks opponents include residents who’ve complained that fireworks noise is a nuisance that often spooks pets, and environmentalists who say the remnants contain chemicals that pollute coastal waters, and that the plastic debris swept out to the ocean kills fish and birds who mistake the remnants for food.
Community groups, however, rely heavily on the sale of legal fireworks to fund worthy causes such as local sports programs. Pacifica non-profit groups raised more than $400,000 selling legal fireworks at licensed booths earlier this year, the Pacifica Tribune reports.
“It's a difficult issue,” Jaquith said. “It's pretty complicated.”
Pacifica Beach Coalition President Lynn Adams lauded the council’s decision to move on a task force, but said she’d like to see its scope limited to beach fireworks.
“I think it's necessary,” she said. “We need to look at this. It's been a taboo topic because people in Pacifica love their fireworks and there's a lot of money made selling the fireworks.”
Adams’ group has called for a ban on beach fireworks, maintaining a neutral stance on all other fireworks-related issues.
The PBC has petitioned for a beach fireworks ban.
Adams said she would seek a seat on the task force if the council opens it up to new members. She said she believes community groups who benefit from fireworks sales need to be represented on the task force too.
“Everybody should have a seat at the table,” Adams said. “I think you need to get all sides to weigh in.”
Adams said her group picks up fireworks remnants at beach cleanups year-round.
“We've been pickup up fireworks (remnants) on the beach every month since July,” she said. “We're still picking up the green little balls with the sticks and sometimes we find the tubes.
“Every month we find fireworks.”
Her group expects more to come with the first rains that clear spent fireworks from storm drains.
“We haven't had the ‘big flush,’” Adams said. “The first big rain washes things off the sidewalks and streets and clears out what's been lying in the storm drains. That stuff will stay in the storm drain until the big rain comes and then anything in the storm drain gets pushed outnto the ocean."
Adams said cleaning up fireworks remnants and packaging during Fourth of July celebrations is a nearly impossible task.
“They're lighting them up on the beach when it's dark,” she said. “Even when they want to pick it up they can't. It gets lost in the sand.”
Momentum seems to be gathering behind Adams’ proposal.
Police Chief Jim Tasa has publicly expressed support for a beach fireworks ban.
Jaquith declined to publicly express her view on what action the council should take, but said she believes the plan to be credible.
“It's a serious alternative we ought to look at,” she said.