Bothell voters will be asked to provide feedback to the City Council on next November’s ballot concerning a potential fireworks ban.
During their Dec. 1 meeting, council members voted to place an advisory vote on the November 2016 ballot, asking voters whether they would support a fireworks ban. While the ballot measure would not be binding, council members were unwilling to take an official vote without citizen input.
“Since it’s such a controversial topic and because people feel so strongly about it, the council decided that (instead of) just enacting a ban, which is in it’s purview, they want to get a clear understanding from the people what their desire is,” Councilwoman Tris Samberg said.
The issue of a fireworks ban has come before the council in the past, but this year’s intense wildfires and continuing drought have fire officials concerned.
“For the state of Washington, this is unprecedented in our history,” Bothell Fire Marshall Frank Shasky said at a Sept. 8 study session.
This year’s fire season saw record-setting property loss across the Northwest states, Alaska and California, resulting in 7.5 million acres burned, Shasky said.
In an email, Bothell Fire Chief Bob Van Horne said on average his department responded to 69 fireworks related incidents a year since 2011, generally brush and grass fires.
From 2011 to 2014, there were eight fireworks incidents within the city limits. In 2015, there were 12, he said.
This prompted the department to operate an additional engine during this year’s Fourth of July celebrations.
Van Horne also noted a ban has area precedent.
“The surrounding cities of Woodinville, Kirkland and Kenmore ban fireworks, and while it does not completely eliminate all fireworks incidents in their cities, it does dramatically reduce the potential of fires or injuries resulting from fireworks. Bothell would likely experience the same reductions,” he said.
Councilman Bill Evans has lived in Bothell since 1972, and remembers lighting off fireworks with his family.
“Way back when I had children at home, we used to have fireworks in our cul-de-sac,” he said, but now that he’s older he sees why residents are concerned about disturbance and fire.
State law requires a one year moratorium before newly passed legislation takes affect. If a fireworks ban was passed in December 2016, after the advisory vote, it would not be enforceable until December 2017.
This was a problem facing municipalities across the state after a drought emergency was declared on May 15, and an emergency fire declaration July 2.
The council will consider adopting a separate emergency fireworks ban, allowing the city manager, fire marshal and police to issue emergency fireworks bans dependent on fire conditions.
The uncertainty of a temporary ban concerned Councilman Mark Lamb, as he noted some non-profits have used fireworks sales in the past as a way to fund their organizations. Banning fireworks sales after such a group had already bought a year’s stock could financially hurt them.
He said the decision on a permanent fireworks ban should be up to the people and supported an advisory vote.
The language of the advisory proposition was also discussed at the meeting.
The proposition asks voters if they would consider a ban on ‘safe and sane,’ or commercial-grade retail fireworks available at fireworks stands.
Samberg believed this language could cause confusion on the ballot, which could have lasting consequences for the city.
“We don’t want to have a situation where we’re endangering lives, property, our first responders,” she said.
The advisory vote will coincide with the 2016 presidential election, which city leaders hope will encourage a wider swath of residents to vote on the measure.