Tuesday, 21 May 2024

Effort under way to place fireworks ballot measure before Lakeport voters

LAKEPORT – Opponents of a City Council move to ban safe and sane fireworks in the Lakeport are preparing to take their cause to the city's voters.

Next Tuesday, several hundred signatures will be submitted to City Clerk Janel Chapman in an effort to get an initiative before voters this fall.

The effort is being spearheaded by four local nonprofit groups that have been allowed by city ordinance to sell safe and sane – or state-approved – fireworks in the city for many years. They include the Miss Lake County Scholarships Organization, the Clear Lake High School Booster Club, Terrace School Parent Teacher Organization and the Lake County Channel Cats.

Citing concerns over fire danger, on April 21 the council turned down the applications of the four groups to set up booths and sell fireworks from July 1 through July 4, as Lake County News has reported.

The council vote wasn't unanimous – council members Jim Irwin and Suzanne Lyons fought what they said was an attack both on tradition and personal freedoms.

For the groups, losing a major source of annual revenue – as much as $15,000 per group per year – prompted them to ask the council on May 5 to rescind their April 21 actions and approve the applications, otherwise an initiative would move forward

But on May 5 the council gave initial approval to a proposed ordinance that would permanently ban safe and sane fireworks in the city, the last place locally where they're still allowed. A second reading and final approval are expected June 2, with the ordinance going into effect on July 3.

Dennis Revell of Revell Communications, who represents American Promotional Events, TNT Fireworks and the nonprofits, said the groups had two courses of action – do a referendum once the second vote is taken on the ordinance in June or pursue an initiative.

Revell said the groups didn't believe council members Roy Parmentier, Bob Rumfelt and Ron Bertsch would change their minds. A referendum would have required a legal process to order the council to approve the applications of the groups, which had met the requirements of the current fireworks ordinance, Revell said.

That was a costly option that wasn't guaranteed to work. So they chose instead to take the initiative route, Revell said.

Ultimately, Revell said, they decided it was best to put it out to the voters.

He said the groups previously had suggested the city improve its fireworks ordinance and include some very specific enforcement provisions for fines and additional restrictions on sales.

The language of the proposed initiative includes a 5-percent assessment fee on gross fireworks sales, which would be paid to the city by Aug. 15 of each year. That assessment is intended to cover increased police and fire protection, permit processing, sales booth inspections and cleanup.

City Attorney Steve Brookes confirmed that the groups submitted the initiative to him to prepare the ballot titlee and summary, and that the city is waiting for the Tuesday signatures submission.

In his 25 years with the city, Brookes said he doesn't remember another such initiative going to voters.

Revell said the public's response to the initiative has been “extremely strong.” They've gathered signatures both from people connected to the nonprofits as well as in front of local stores.

He said the groups have been collecting signatures since Saturday, and by the time they submit the initiative to Chapman on Tuesday they will have about 550 signatures – well in excess of the 15 percent of the city's 2,600 registered voters that could compel a special election.

Brookes anticipates that the initiative could go on the November general election ballot. However, even then, the city's new fireworks ban ordinance would already be in force, canceling out much of the time for sales opportunities this year. As well, the city hasn't granted the groups permits, so they'll likely be unable to sell fireworks either way.

The election code provides for and encourages initiative supporters to engage in good faith negotiations in order to come to an alternative result, said Revell.

Brookes said he's not received council direction to enter into good faith negotiations with the groups to find a middle ground.

That appears unlikely to happen. Revell said he contacted Parmentier and Bertsch on Wednesday, and both indicated they were not interested in the discussion. He said Rumfelt didn't return a message.

Bertsch, the city's mayor, confirmed to Lake County News that he spoke to Revell on Wednesday.

“I told him my decision didn't change,” Bertsch said.

He explained that his decision was based on the concerns of Lakeport Fire Protection District Chief Ken Wells, who had approached the council in April.

If the groups want to go to a special election, “then so be it,” said Bertsch, noting he doesn't plan to change his opinion because an outside company that stands to lose a large amount of money pressures him and the council.

Bertsch said if the community turns out to want safe and sane fireworks then he's OK with it, but he said many of the people who have contacted him indicate that they no longer want those fireworks to be legal.

He added that he doesn't believe the initiative will pass or that the council will change its mind.

According to an initiative qualification calendar, the council must act no later than Aug. 4 to place the measure on the Nov. 3 ballot, otherwise it will necessitate a special election on Dec. 3, the costs of which the city would need to absorb.

The Lake County Registrar of Voters Office couldn't give an exact figure on how much a special election might cost. However, the special mail-in ballot election the city held in April of 2005 to fill an open seat that resulted from the death of Councilman Dick Lamkin cost approximately $7,674.82, the agency reported.

Revell said when the groups submit the signatures for the initiative, “it sets the whole process in motion and there's no turning back.”

Once the signatures are filed with the clerk, “the ball's in the City Council's court,” Brookes said.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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