Modesto takes second look at fireworks ordinance

The city will make a serious effort to revamp a new ordinance that lets it issue $1,000 administrative citations to property owners and property management companies whose tenants set off illegal fireworks.

The City Council’s Great Safe Neighborhoods Committee on Monday directed police Chief Galen Carroll, fire Chief Sean Slamon and Assistant City Attorney Jose Sanchez to work with representatives from the property management and real estate industries on the ordinance. They are expected to report back to the committee at its Sept. 12 meeting.

The committee can recommend changes to the ordinance, but the full City Council would have to approve them.

Property managers and others said at the meeting they are more than willing to work with the city on cracking down on illegal fireworks but the ordinance unfairly targets them.

“This ordinance places a burden on owners and managers far beyond what is reasonable and consistent with best practices in property management,” wrote Greg Terzakis, executive director of the Greater Fresno Division of the California Apartment Association, in a letter read at the meeting. The letter said the association represents more than 50,000 property managers and landlords across the state.

“The ordinance requires a property manager to not only oversee the physical condition of their property, a reasonable standard, but also to assume responsibility for the behavior and actions of their tenants around the clock.”

The fire chief, police chief, assistant city attorney and the representatives from real estate and property management industries will research such issues as whether tenant leases can say that the use of illegal fireworks can result in eviction and sending notices to property owners and managers when authorities suspect a tenant is using illegal fireworks.

Fire Marshal Mike Payton reiterated at Monday’s meeting that the intent of the ordinance is not to target property owners and managers. Audience members accepted that but still were worried because the ordinance clearly states the city can cite property owners, managers and others who have control of a property.

Modesto already issues $1,000 administrative citations to those it catches using illegal fireworks. But because of limited staffing, authorities don’t catch very many people. Authorities issued 30 citations this Fourth of July, according to a city report.

Fire Department officials hoped the new ordinance would have taken effect ahead of the recent Fourth of July, when the use of illegal fireworks spikes, as well as on the days leading up to and after the holiday. The number of fires also spikes.

But because of a paperwork mistake, the ordinance did not take effect until July 14. The council, which unanimously approved the ordinance, decided to take a second look at it and referred it to its Great Safe Neighborhoods Committee. That decision came after Louis Levin with Live-In Properties asked the council to reconsider and said many in the real estate community shared his concerns.

Kevin Valine: 209-578-2316