Vancouver City Council OK with fireworks ban

Councilors generally pleased with first year, don't see changing the law

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A sign indicating the rules of a fireworks ban hangs in a Vancouver Fire Department headquarters briefing room before a night of enforcement patrols on July 2. (The Columbian files)

The official report isn’t likely to hit their desks until early August, but city officials say they saw enough this past week to pass judgment on Vancouver’s new, controversial ban on fireworks.

“A couple years from now, no one will think about it,” said City Councilor Ty Stober.

Stober and other members of the council said they were generally happy with the fireworks ban they unanimously passed in October 2015 that took effect this year. They liked the quieter neighborhoods, calmer dogs and cleaner streets.

While many residents feel the same way, many others have expressed anger and resentment.

Councilors said they don’t see changing the law, but expect to discuss it in August when they get a full report on the complaints, reports and emergency dispatches.

Councilor Jack Burkman thought the ban was a success, although he said he grew up with fireworks. Burkman said the ban is a cultural shift that will take time for many to accept. Some people in his neighborhood lit fireworks, but Burkman said they stopped quickly because they probably knew about the ban. Burkman also said the feedback on the ban has been 50-50, but he sees no reason for the ordinance to change.

City Manager Eric Holmes said he knew there wouldn’t be 100 percent compliance. “Changing behaviors will happen with time,” he said.

Councilor Alishia Topper said she thought the ban worked. She heard that most neighborhoods were quieter than past Fourth of Julys.

With 59 citations issued and 44 fireworks seized by authorities, Topper was pleased with the outcome. “That’s a pretty small percentage of folks who either didn’t hear about the ban or decided to ignore it.”

Topper said many of the email complaints she received were from residents who were upset over the full ban on fireworks and wanted a partial ban similar to Portland’s, where fireworks that project more than 12 inches off the ground, travel more than six feet or explode are banned.

Councilor Bart Hansen called Vancouver’s ban a success, but said it’s going to take a few years for people to realize its full effect. He said he knows people are complaining about the ban not working, and heard some complaints from people who were unclear whether the ban impacted them.

Hansen doesn’t foresee making any changes in the ordinance. “We are where we are,” he said.

Councilor and mayoral candidate Anne McEnerny-Ogle said she was happy with the calmness of her neighborhood because of the ban. She received positive comments and pictures of dogs “not on meds” who could sleep.

She was also happy with the lack of fireworks litter. “I am amazed how clean the streets were,” she said. “Everything was just meticulous.”

The ban was introduced after July 4, 2015, when fireworks caused $824,500 in damages in Clark County. That was also during a particularly bad drought year, when Gov. Jay Inslee declared a drought emergency in Southwest Washington. That October, the city council passed the ordinance unanimously, without a public advisory vote.

McEnerny-Ogle hopes the Clark County council will adopt a similar ban, partly because people on the borders of Vancouver were confused by the ban’s boundaries.

Reversing the fireworks ban is only possible with a petition signed by at least 3,749 city voters — equivalent to 15 percent of those who voted in the 2015 general election. In that case, the council would consider a revised ordinance change at a public hearing and then could pass or deny it. If the council did not pass it, the proposed ordinance would be placed on the ballot.