Richmond has a fireworks problem. For some of our residents, it feels like July 4th has become an entire season.
We watch them on national holidays, when the Warriors win the NBA title, and for the international Olympics. Many cultures set off fireworks for festivals and other celebrations. Our city even sets itself apart from other Bay Area cities by putting on our yearly show the night before July 4th—ushering in that “time of year.”
There are downsides to these pyrotechnics, however: the explosive sounds can trigger PTSD in some individuals, pets get freaked out, there is a risk of starting fires on our drought parched hills, and they can cause personal injuries. There are also financial and environmental concerns. Richmond spends $100,00 a year for our “bombs-bursting-in-air” displays. Fireworks also leave particulate matter in the air, increasing Richmond’s pollution. Richmond neighbors have been frustrated and upset about these disturbances.
How might we address this issue? We have ample evidence that arresting, charging, fining, and incarcerating people who buy, sell, and use fireworks do not serve as deterrents. We need conversations and dialogue as we address our people’s concerns. We need to hear from those who want to continue engaging in this explosive sport, those who want fireworks banned, those who are negatively affected by them, and those who have to clean up after the parties (fire fighters, neighbors left with debris strewn across their streets, medical personnel, and people who have been injured, etc.). Listening to all our constituents will be key.
At a recent Reimagine Richmond meeting, we discussed this fiery problem and suggested some safety measures. We began with harm reduction—lessening the personal, pet, and privacy disturbances in our neighborhoods. Firework use needs to be moved to places where it won’t cause damage. Richmond has ample industrial lots that could host fireworks. Another person mentioned that the city of San Pablo has offered training and education to instruct people on how to set off fireworks safely and how to store them. Perhaps we can get the Richmond Fire Department to do the same. A buy-back program was suggested, too—we can reduce the stash and people could make money. Committee members also remarked that we need to ask why people are lighting fireworks and what alternatives could engage their interests and enthusiasm instead— things like clean parks, block parties, and youth programs.
These safety measures necessitate more dialogue and community involvement. What might the purveyors who buy and sell fireworks have to say (We will need to explore how to get those vendors to the table)? What might another group of residents who are not in favor of blasting firecrackers add? Who is shooting off the fireworks? Do they do it just for kicks? Is it one group or diverse factions? What is the cultural component? Releasing anger? Playing war? Are some just having fun with danger? Motives matter. Stakeholders in the explosive enterprise have a multiplicity of intentions and come from various groups within and outside our city. To understand those differences, we need to assemble these individuals and make plans that safely and soundly blast through these disturbances of our peace.