Learn the history and facts about fireworks in Union City
by Emma Tozer, Communications Coordinator
Union City is one of the few cities in Alameda County that allows ‘safe and sane’ fireworks, but this comes with challenges. What’s the history of our fireworks laws and what does the City do to minimize and mitigate risk? Read on for an illuminating primer on fireworks in Union City (pun intended).
The History Behind Union City’s Fireworks Laws
In the 1990s, there was a statewide push to stop the sale of fireworks and most cities and unincorporated areas decided to prohibit their sale. However, the cities of Newark, Union City, and Dublin in Alameda County continued to allow them.
Fireworks sales in Union City are made possible through a partnership between community nonprofit organizations and licensed fireworks vendors. Nonprofits work with licensed vendors to sell ‘safe and sane’ fireworks, and a percentage of the sales are retained by the nonprofits. The July 4th weekend is oftentimes a significant fundraising opportunity for these community organizations.
Following a particularly unruly and dangerous year of fireworks activity in 2001, the City Council introduced an emergency ordinance to ban fireworks. A referendum was then placed on the following election to overturn this City Council decision, and voters approved the referendum. Fireworks have been legal in Union City ever since then, but Council decided to take administrative steps to increase safety:
- Use of fireworks was banned east of Mission Boulevard and City parks. Fireworks are only allowed on private property.
- Limits and regulations were placed on vendor booths.
- Limits were placed on hours of use. Fireworks can only be sold from 8:00 am to 10:00 pm between July 1–3 and deployed on July 4 from 8:00 am to 11:00 pm.
- Requirements were put in place for robust community education around fireworks laws and safety.
Unfortunately, illegal fireworks are easily obtainable in California because of a large export of these fireworks into the state. This is a root cause of the issues that we see at the local level, and local jurisdictions receive very few resources to enforce fireworks laws. Which leads us to…
How ‘lit’ does it get?
July 4th weekend is one of the busiest weekends for the Union City Police Department. Over the past 10 years, the police department has responded to an average of 246 calls for service on July 4th. Take a look at the year-to-year breakdown:
How do we prepare?
July 4th is an intensive effort for the City and involves teamwork between the Union City Police Department, the City Manager’s Office, Public Works, and the Alameda County Fire Department. Each year, the City begins preparation for the July 4th weekend as early as February. The City develops robust public education and operation plans and — in partnership with the nonprofits and fireworks vendors — begins public outreach several months in advance of the holiday weekend.
The Union City Police Department staffs a special team of overtime police officers to support the influx in nonemergency and emergency calls — in 2020, UCPD had 12 officers and sergeants on overtime duty that July 4th weekend, in addition to the regular patrol shift of eight police department employees.
This year, UCPD will use both administrative and criminal citations for violations. Union City Police Department can only enforce against illegal activities and fireworks when it witnesses the crime in progress. Utilizing administrative citations can provide some benefits over criminal citations. For example, if the police receive repeat calls at a home in Union City, an officer can issue an administrative citation to the property owner even if the officer can’t see who lit the fireworks. The officer just needs to see the fireworks being lit from the property (this includes the rear yard).
The City’s work doesn’t stop on July 4th, either. Teams of Public Works employees will spend several days afterwards cleaning up fireworks debris that were left over from the holiday celebrations (friendly reminder: properly dispose of your used fireworks by dousing them in water and placing them in your garbage bins).
Bonus FAQ: What are ‘Safe and Sane’ Fireworks?
‘Safe and sane’ are state-approved fireworks which are neither projectile nor explosive. In other words, fireworks that include rockets, aerial missiles and spinners, roman candle-types, and other types which are similar to any of these are neither safe nor sane.
Safe and sane fireworks include:
- Snake-type fireworks
- Ground-spinning fireworks
- Most novelty fireworks
- Toytrick noisemakers
- Some crackling items
One easy way to think of it:
If it doesn’t leave the ground, it is safe and sane!
Got a question about fireworks laws and safety in Union City? Shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.