San Jose approves new fines in illegal fireworks crackdown

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On Tuesday night, the San Jose City Council unanimously approved allowing non-sworn city employees to issue hefty new fines for those caught lighting up illegal fireworks.

It's a pilot program to help fire and police departments with limited staffing.

Jeff Levine lives near downtown San Jose. Last month, his home surveillance video captured illegal fireworks in the night sky. Levine said it's a problem that's gotten worse through the years.

"At first I thought, 'What holiday am I missing? What sporting event am I missing?', because usually the big ones are predictable," said Levine.

In February, fireworks for Lunar New Year sparked a blaze at a shopping mall in East San Jose. The fire department said as the problem escalates, the explosives are more powerful.

"More aerial type things going up as opposed to just the firecrackers and sparklers and safe and sane stuff that was coming in from other communities," said San Jose Fire Chief Curtis Jacobson. "Just the escalation of it and we are seeing more and more of it and more widespread."

At Tuesday's City Council meeting, councilmembers approved new administrative fines that range from $500 for the first offense, $750 for the second offense and $1,000 thousand dollars for the third offense. It also allows park rangers, traffic control officers and code enforcement inspectors to issue tickets.

"The idea here is have some real teeth in the law which we know for the most part has been largely ignored," said San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo.

The enforcement is starting as a pilot program in July in time for Fourth of July. At that time, residents can also report violators anonymously online. One of the challenges include looking at the resources needed to process these citations.

"Concerns of somebody issuing a citation if they actually need the police, how that communication is going to go," said Capt. Ed Schroder. "Outside of that, I look forward to the pilot program. I think it's definitely a step in the right direction."

"We are to the point where we really wanted the city to take action," said Steven Spivak who lives in South San Jose.

The new plan would also allow police to issue criminal citations and offenders could face a year in jail.