If passed, ordinance will apply only to the current year and ban the sale and use of fireworks

The Cloverdale City Council will be reviewing an urgency ordinance prohibiting the sale and discharge of fireworks for the remainder of 2020 at its upcoming meeting on May 13. The creation of an ordinance was discussed at both the May 5 and April 7 Finance, Administration and Police Subcommittee meetings.

During the May 5 subcommittee meeting, City Manager David Kelley said that the Cloverdale Municipal Code (section 15.14.695(B)) allows the city to prohibit the sale and discharge of safe and sane fireworks if it determines increased risk to the city due to drought, fire weather events, limitations on firefighting forces or fuel moisture.

“We do note that this year has been a year of less than average rainfall, and we’re already starting to experience dry conditions,” Kelley said. “I know that’s one of the issues that some residents have expressed concern about, is potential fire hazards.”

In part contributing to increased fire hazards is more vegetation on city land since, due to COVID-19, the city hasn’t been able to bring out the teams of workers who usually help clear brush from Cloverdale’s open space. Kelley also said that he’s received calls from city residents about there being unmanaged dry brush and fire fuel on properties throughout the city — he said that the city and the fire district have recently begun their yearly weed abatement checks.

“I support (the ordinance) 100% — it’s only for the remainder of this year, and the Lions have already given notice that they won’t be doing their display this year,” Cloverdale mayor and subcommittee vice chair Gus Wolter said, recommending that the urgency ordinance be brought to city council.

The Cloverdale Lions Club, which usually hosts an annual Fourth of July show canceled it this year, due to both COVID-19 and not having a suitable space to host the show. The Lions Club usually sets off fireworks from the Cloverdale High School football field, which is currently under construction

“I think the importance of the emergency ordinance as it relates to (the 2017 and 2019 wildfires, the city’s below-average rainfalls and currently trying to prepare for potential future wildfires while battling the COVID-19 pandemic) really outline the hazards and the concerns we need to take in consideration for public safety right now,” said Cloverdale Police Chief Jason Ferguson.

Ferguson also noticed that selling fireworks isn’t deemed an “essential service,” something the language of the proposed ordinances echoes.

“I think it’s in the best interest of the city to be more concerned with public safety right now, than anything else” he said.

The proposed ordinance also states that the city’s current resources means that it can’t commit to “providing the required level of public safety protections necessary” to accomodate having fireworks this year.

“I can’t imagine asking our police or our firefighters to take on all of this increased responsibility ... now we’re going to ask them to have heightened awareness around firework sales and the Fourth of July?” subcommittee chair and council member Melanie Bagby questioned. “That’s our team. I can’t even imagine asking them to add that level of stress.

“When everybody is rested and has had vacations, that’s one thing, but have to really be aware of the added stress, the initial responsibilities and the toll that this (the pandemic) is taking on all of us.”

When it comes to trying to decrease the likelihood of fire, Bagby said that the decision isn’t just about making the right decision for Cloverdale, it’s also about making the correct decision for the areas surrounding Cloverdale. She noted that a fire starting in Cloverdale wouldn’t only be potentially detrimental to the town, but could also spread to nearby areas and endanger residents throughout the county.

One of the concerns voiced by community members following the meeting was that the ordinance appeared rapidly, especially when taking into account that the Cloverdale City Council took action in August 2019 to form an ad hoc committee to pursue discussion of whether or not the city should create a permanent ordinance potentially banning the sale and use of “safe and sane” fireworks.

One criticism of the creation of an urgency ordinance, should it be voted in, is the fear that the existence of an ordinance may make it easier for the city to work toward a longer-term ban.

When asked how the city plans to address those fears, Kelley emphasized that the specific wording of the proposed ordinance (“An urgency ordinance of the city of Cloverdale finding that conditions exist which necessitate the prohibition of the sale and discharge of safe and sane fireworks for the year 2020”) means that the ordinance proposed only addresses a prohibition for the remainder of the year.

“Once the year 2020 is over, basically we default back to the municipal code, which provides for the sale of safe and sane (fireworks),” Kelley said in an interview. “This (ordinance) doesn’t extend beyond 2020. Does that mean that this council or future councils couldn’t decide to issue or adopt a similar urgency ordinance? Obviously it would be dependent on the conditions that warrant it during that particular time.”

Another question posed to the city in an email shared with the Reveille (see our May 7 Letters to the Editor) is whether or not the city has consulted with Cloverdale’s Fire Protection District (CFPD) on the issue of temporarily prohibiting the sale and use of fireworks in the city.

When asked if the city plans to have someone from the fire district present at the upcoming council meeting to discuss the district’s perspective on the potential ban, Kelley said that he plans on inviting CFPD Chief Jason Jenkins.

“I’ll reach out to Chief Jenkins, I don’t want to surprise him with the ordinance, bringing it forward. Typically fire departments will have a perspective on the matter, but we haven’t heard directly from them,” Kelley said. “Generally they’ve indicated that it’s a city council decision. I think they’re trying to be careful and recognize that the decision really lies with the city council.”

Kelley added that he thinks there’s a “general consensus” surrounding the concern for increased fire risk, as well as having firework-related events while also trying to deal with COVID-19.

The May 13 Cloverdale City Council meeting will be broadcast over Zoom, as well as on the city’s YouTube page. Those watching over one of those channels are being encouraged to email their public comment ahead of time to city clerk Irene Camacho-Werby,

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