It is a thinly disguised effort by the fireworks industry to thwart the city’s 2016 ban on using or possessing personal fireworks, which took effect one year later.
Mayor Pete Kmet is leading the charge to keep the ban. He argues that personal fireworks cause injuries and fires, are a nuisance to pets and also military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.
The public face of the pro-fireworks campaign includes historian David Nicandri who says he enjoys a few legal “safe and sane” fireworks on the Fourth of July. For such traditionalists, Independence Day goes hand in hand with fireworks.
Other backers of Initiative 1 are charitable groups like the Tumwater Lions Club that sell fireworks to raise money each year and now must look for new fundraising options.
But the financial power behind Initiative 1 is American Promotional Events in Tacoma. The fireworks distributor provided all but about $516 of the more than $24,300 of contributions reported by Citizens for Legal Fireworks (through April 2).
Also, the initiative’s campaign manager is listed as Jerald Farley of Lake Forest Park, who is a state-registered lobbyist for the Consumer Fireworks Safety Association.
Neighbors for a Safer Tumwater, the committee trying to save the ban, has filed paperwork with the state Public Disclosure Commission pledging not to spend more than $5,000. Who has contributed is not yet disclosed.
We understand that Tumwater is a city that loves traditions. No doubt patriotic displays with fireworks are fun for those who set them off. That is why we argued two years ago that it was up to Tumwater voters to decide if the cultural value of personal fireworks outweighed the risks of fire or injury.
By a slender 78-vote margin Tumwater voters favored a ban. That vote was an indication that the city had reached the tipping point for ending personal use of fireworks. The City Council then acted in December 2016 to enact the ban.
At the time, we thought Nicandri, who campaigned against the ban in 2016 and shunned contributions from the fireworks industry, had good points. He urged the council to tweak city ordinances to allow a few small fireworks on fewer days.
But the City Council rejected his suggestions, setting up the all-or-nothing choice for voters today. If Initiative 1 was really about fine-tuning a fireworks ordinance to allow a few very limited exceptions for sparklers and smaller fireworks, this would be a different situation.
Initiative goes beyond any sensible tinkering and repeals the fireworks ban in its entirety. If Initiative 1 passes, fireworks sales will start three days earlier than in recent years, and the fire chief will lose the ability to issue a short-term fireworks bans during dry, hazardous weather.
As an alternative, the initiative sets up a process that only permits the City Council to limit hours of fireworks use, not eliminate them.
Many cities have experimented with fireworks bans, and Nicandri contends these have failed to rid cities of illegal fireworks, which is true.
But there is evidence that complaints and aid calls related to fireworks were tempered after Lacey’s 2010 ban and after Olympia’s took effect a couple of years later. We expect the same benefits for Tumwater.
Keeping Tumwater’s ban also means that for the first time all of north Thurston County’s urbanized areas will have the same rule. This should help our urban fire chiefs speak with a unified message each holiday.
For those who love fireworks, the Tumwater downtown business association still sponsors a free, public fireworks show every Fourth of July, coinciding with the Tumwater parade on Independence Day. Lacey provides a similar show on July 3, and Olympia’s Lakefair festival hosts a display in mid-July.
Those public displays, staged by professionals, are far more impressive than backyard celebrations. They ought to be enough.
Vote no on Initiative 1 and retain Tumwater’s fireworks ban.