Sunday, November 20, 2011

Anchorage Fireworks Ordinance Sparks Renewed Controversy; While Dick Traini Wants To Make It Permanent, Paul Honeman Wants Some Restrictions

Update December 13th: The Anchorage Assembly voted 9-2 to pass Paul Honeman's ordinance forbidding the use of fireworks in mobile home parks.

The current fireworks ordinance in Anchorage, Alaska has sparked renewed debate as New Year's Eve approaches. Leading one side of the debate is Assemblyman Dick Traini, who helped pass the more liberal fireworks ordinance in December 2010. Since the ordinance sunsets itself in December 2012, Traini wants to make it permanent. On the other side, Assemblyman Paul Honeman wants to impose restrictions on fireworks use in some densely-packed neighborhoods, particularly in mobile home parks, even though he originally voted in favor of the current ordinance. He will be introducing AO 2011-117 to accomplish this goal. A group of citizens opposed to the indiscriminate public possession and use of fireworks have formed the Anchorage 2020 Keep Anchorage Fireworks-Free Facebook page.

The bone of contention is AO 2010-86(S), passed on December 7th, 2010 (what an ironic date) by a 7-4 margin. AO 2010-86(S) modified the blanket ban on the sale, possession, and use of fireworks within the Municipality of Anchorage and authorized residents to use fireworks on one occasion per year, from 9:30 P.M. on December 31st until 1:00 A.M. on January 1st. The sale of fireworks in Anchorage remained prohibited. Ten of the 11 Assembly members involved still hold their seats; here was the voting breakdown:

For the ordinance:

-- Dick Traini: 250-6832 561-4526 E-Mail:
-- Elvi Gray-Jackson: 343-4118 E-mail:
-- Jennifer Johnston: 346-1087 E-mail:
-- Bill Starr: 350-5481 E-mail:
-- Ernie Hall: 562-2088 343-4115 E-mail:
-- Paul Honeman: 947-0500 E-mail:
-- Mike Gutierrez: 382-5972 E-mail:
(voted out 2011 and replaced by Adam Trombley 830-0378 E-mail:

Against the ordinance:

-- Debbie Ossiander: Phone: 688-2308 E-mail:
-- Harriet Drummond: Phone: (907)279-7763 E-mail:
-- Patrick Flynn: Phone: (907)278-8462 E-mail:
-- Chris Birch: Phone: (907)346-3265 E-mail:

Paul Honeman's replacement ordinance, AO 2011-117, is on the agenda for introduction at the November 22nd Assembly meeting, but no public testimony will be taken at that time.

Reaction: Many residents were outraged, saying that fireworks usage went off the charts and that Anchorage sounded like Baghdad. PTSD sufferers and pet owners were among the leading complainants. Elected officials who received phone calls and e-mails report the public was about equally split in their reaction.

Proponents of Traini's ordinance claimed that fireworks were being used anyway despite the blanket ban, and that it was a waste of time to divert police from more serious situations to chase down fireworks violators. However, the blanket ban at least ensured that fireworks use would remain within respectable and tolerable bounds. This, of course, was not the case last New Year's Eve when Anchorage did sound like a poor man's version of Baghdad. There was a dramatic upsurge in complaints to police; Chugiak resident Georgia Kustura described seeing fireworks in her horse pasture and large, booming shells exploding until 4 A.M. New Year's Day, well after the 1 A.M. cutoff under the law, while Linda Harter said the fireworks also resulted in a great deal of litter around town that could hurt local creeks and also drew people away from the city's larger fireworks display on New Year's Eve. Another issue I pointed out in my January 1st, 2011 post on this subject: The majority of fireworks sold in Alaska come from China, which means we're giving China foreign exchange for a frivolous product which has no lasting value, further adding to our trade deficit with China, which tends to weaken the argument that shooting off fireworks is "patriotic".

Paul Honeman's proposed solution represents an attempt at compromise, but it is primarily window dressing. It won't result in less fireworks usage in mobile home parks. The better solution is to repeal AO 2010-86(S) and return to a blanket ban, but providing for secondary enforcement so that police remain free to respond first to more serious breaches of the law. Too many people have proven that they cannot handle the power to use fireworks responsibility; a blanket ban is justified.

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