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Council split on fireworks ban

A bill banning consumer fireworks on Oahu faces a tough review by the City Council even after Fourth of July incidents, including a Kalama Valley brush fire that burned 200 acres and threatened homes.

Of the nine members of the City Council polled this week by the Star-Advertiser:

» Four support Bill 34 (2010) as written: bill author Gary Okino, Public Safety Chairman Lee Donohue and Council members Donovan Dela Cruz and Nestor Garcia.

» Four other Council members said they have myriad concerns with the bill and have not decided how they will vote: Ikaika Anderson, Todd Apo, Ann Kobayashi and Rod Tam.

» Romy Cachola, the ninth Council member, said he will oppose the bill.

The bill calls for a ban on all consumer fireworks including firecrackers, sparklers and other novelty items. A statewide ban on aerial fireworks would stay in effect, as would an exemption allowing for large-scale aerial fireworks displays conducted by professionals via permit.

A public hearing on the bill takes place at 2 p.m. Wednesday.

Honolulu fire officials determined that the Hawaii Kai brush fire, which did not reach homes but forced dozens of families to evacuate overnight, was caused by illegal, professional-grade aerial fireworks.

Okino said there’s been an upswing in the number of messages in support of a total ban received by his office since the weekend, which saw at least 10 fireworks-related fires. Besides the Kalama Valley fire, there was a brush fire between Kalaeloa and Ko Olina, and a rubbish fire that led to damage to a Waipahu house.

"This kind of thing really upsets people," Okino said.

A consumer fireworks ban would not directly have an impact on aerial fireworks because they are already banned. But supporters say aerials would be much easier to focus on if all other fireworks are off the street.

"I know a total ban would not stop everything coming through, but at least we can start to enforce aerials," said Donohue, a former Honolulu police chief.

A Police Department official testified last week that it would be easier to enforce aerials if officers did not need to also handle consumer fireworks complaints on New Year’s Eve and the Fourth of July.

Okino said consumer fireworks are bad, citing the potential for fires, injuries and breathing problems for those with respiratory illnesses.

Donohue said there is also the public cost associated with the added police and firefighters necessary to deal with fireworks-related problems.

Dela Cruz said he supports the bill as written but would like cultural events to be included among the uses that would be allowed with a permit.

Garcia said he supports a total ban but also wants to get more answers about who is responsible for enforcement of the existing aerial fireworks ban.

The only definite "no" is Cachola, who said illegal aerials are his main concern. Cachola said he’s not sure a consumer fireworks ban would help that effort.

Four Council members said they haven’t decided how they’ll cast their final vote.

Kobayashi helped push the bill out of the Public Safety and Services Committee last week and said she will likely vote to advance the bill again Wednesday. But Kobayashi stressed she still hasn’t decided whether she’ll ultimately support a total ban.

She said her own district is split on the issue. The McCully-Moiliili Neighborhood Board voted to support the ban, while a number of Manoa Neighborhood Board members told her they like popping firecrackers during the holidays.

A poll conducted by Ward Research in late May showed 62 percent of residents statewide oppose a ban on personal use of non-aerial consumer fireworks and firecrackers.

Kobayashi said public sentiment will definitely play a role in her decision.

Apo, the Council chairman, said he is not yet convinced a total ban is the best solution.

"I am still of a position where I would like to find a way to avoid a total ban if we can find a way we can control the problems with illegal fireworks," he said. "That said, if we can’t find another reasonable solution, maybe we need to go to a total ban."

Tam said he is undecided and is weighing the importance of continuing cultural and religious practices against public safety concerns.

Anderson said he is not sure whether a majority of his constituents support a ban or that such a ban would be enforceable.


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