A few weeks ago, I sat down with Clay Butler, Rich Maneval, and Taimi Gorman who together form the backbone of Bellingham Initiative 1, concerning the regulation of consumer fireworks within the city. This initiative, which they hope will qualify for the November ballot, would ban the sale of consumer fireworks in Bellingham and institute a fine for people setting off fireworks within the city limits.
Butler outline how they got started on this effort. As a Fairhaven resident, he was frustrated and offended by the noise, trash and effects of the fireworks on his community, so he started talking, neighbor-to-neighbor, about what could be done. He spoke with Stan Snapp, former firefighter and current city councilmember, who recommended an initiative. So he gathered some friends and fellow ant-fireworks crusaders and started gathering signatures.
They need 5,000-7,000 signatures by mid-July, and when I talked to them in May, they had gathered just shy of 2,000, but they believe that they will make the deadline. “When the forth of July rolls around, people will remember why this is such a problem.”
Gorman toted some efforts in other areas where they have tried to ban fireworks. “There have been serious improvements in health costs where they have been banned. Spokane instituted a fine of $500 for anyone caught with a firework, and they have an Indian reservation right next to Spokane. They managed to keep the fireworks contained.”
But why not just a fine for reckless behavior? “Ban, ban, ban,” said Maneval. “We’ve had enough of that. Let’s limit fireworks to just the professionals.” The initiative would still allow for large scale community fireworks displays, just not the small consumer purchases.
But what if Haggan, who funded the fireworks display over the bay in the past, backs out in years to come. Gorman shrugs her shoulders. “Oh well. If everyone in town took they money they spent on fireworks and gave it to the chamber of commerce, I’m sure they could come up with something.” She pauses, thinking for a moment, then continues. “They used to handout cigarettes to people on a plane. You don’t have the right to make everyone in the neighborhood suffer because you want to blow stuff up.”
The group is well-versed in the effects of fireworks. Burns, air pollution, litter, scared pets, triggering of PTSD sufferers, strain on emergency services, they go through the litany of damages. My questions however, lead back to the economy.
Doesn’t the sale of fireworks, and corresponding fourth of july supplies, provide a significant boost to our economy? Gorman fires right back, “No. We’re not worried about damaging the local economy. It shouldn’t be a factor.” Butler follows that up, “You’ve got to start changing behavior somewhere.”
Butler notes that this will make enforcement that much easier for the police and firefighters. “If something goes off in a neighborhood, they can nab them right away and hit them with a fine, they don’t need to see if they are using legal fireworks or not, since all consumer fireworks will be illegal.”
I ask about the fundraising for this effort. Initiatives, especially community efforts, are notoriously shoe-string operations. Gorman points out that they sell buttons but, “no businesses are supporting us, we are a grassroots effort.”
Overall, it was an interesting interview. To be honest, I was struck by how politically tone-deaf the group seemed. They started from the position that everyone agrees with their efforts, and anyone who doesn’t must be a Tea Party freedom explosive nut. They literally laughed off my questions about the economy. While a fireworks ban seems to have some serious upsides, I am concerned about implementation and with the direction this initiative goes. Do we want to start handing out fines to highly supervised twelve-year-olds with bottle rockets? This was one of those cases where I walked into the interview ready to support their position, and left with doubts. I’m no fan of fireworks, but is this step necessary?
We will see if they qualify for the ballot, but I’m sure with all the explosives in the next couple of days, people will have their minds made up, one way or another.