Friday, February 9, 2001
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Posted on: Friday, February 9, 2001

Olomana considers ban on fireworks

By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Windward Bureau

KAILUA — Worried about their health and safety, residents of the Olomana subdivision are proposing to do what state legislators have been unwilling or unable to do for years: ban fireworks from their community.

"If the community wants to go so far as to hire police officers, or detectives or do our own posse, we don’t know," said Gary Wiseman, the board member who proposed the ban last month. "We just thought we’d get discussion going, and we’re willing to take the heat."

There are many hurdles to be overcome. The neighborhood cannot set its own law, but the association is proceeding and hoping that the majority of their neighbors will agree with them when the issue is put to a community vote in May.

Officials say it may be the first time in Hawaii that homeowners outside of private communities such as condominium associations have tried to ban fireworks.

A number of Olomana residents say they support the effort, as do fire and police officials.

"It’s always better to have consensus to abide by certain rules than having laws," said Assistant Police Chief Boisse Correa, adding that police would support the community’s efforts. "It’s better than any law we could pass through the Legislature."

Olomana is a relatively isolated community of about 300 homes nestled in the shadow of Mount Olomana, cut off from its neighbors by Kalanianaole Highway. It is surrounded by the open space of the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility, forestlike property belonging to Luana Hills Country Club and a banana field. That seclusion and what one resident called its large population of elderly people may ultimately contribute to the success of the effort, some say.

Olomana resident Donna Wong said she would oppose a ban on firecrackers, but supports the prohibition on aerials. She agrees that some people are getting out of hand, but said banning a longtime custom is not the solution.

"Customs are a necessary part of life, and we should fight to keep them safe and cherish them," said Wong, a Kailua Neighborhood Board member.

Other residents in Olomana said it’s time for that custom to change. Edward Tam, 78, said he enjoyed fireworks as a youth, but today’s residential use creates fire and health hazards.

"The cultural argument doesn’t withstand scrutiny in my mind," Tam said. "There are other ways to celebrate one’s culture, to be proud of one’s culture without having to burn firecrackers."

Several residents, who said they used to set off fireworks, would support a ban. Harry Ball said he enjoyed the tradition, but is sympathetic to people who suffer from asthma. He suggested that the board may have proposed the ban because the community has a large population of elderly people.

"The board itself is overwhelmingly elderly," Ball said.

Elza Pyun said when she moved into her home in 1960 there were 45 children on her block. Now, she said, with 20 residents older than 60 living in 22 houses on her block, older people may outnumber the children.

Still, the children suffer, said Charleen Medeiros, who would ban fireworks "this minute" because her grandchildren have asthma. Her husband, Frank, also said he would "ban the whole thing" even though he liked fireworks at one time.

"I just dread it to see how my grandchildren suffer," Charleen Medeiros said.

Lawmakers last year wrestled with fireworks legislation in the wake of escalating property damage and injuries from fireworks during the New Year’s holiday, when Oahu was shrouded in smoke. After heated debate over balancing safety with the cultural importance of allowing fireworks, the House and Senate reached a compromise.

That law requires fireworks users to obtain a $25 permit for each 5,000 firecrackers purchased. The law went into effect this past New Year’s holiday. It noticeably cut down on fireworks use and related smoke, but illegal aerials caused nearly $400,000 in property damage and are believed to have ignited a house fire that killed a Palolo woman.

This year, legislators introduced a number of fireworks-related bills, including banning non-religious uses, giving counties back the power to control fireworks, exempting nonprofit organizations from the permit fee and allowing fireworks for the Chinese New Year’s celebration.

Fire Chief Attilio Leonardi said Oahu is split 50-50 over a total ban and wondered how Olomana’s proposal would work.

"It’s a matter of getting all the residents to voluntarily comply," Leonardi said. "If they did, we would support it."

Mary Moore, president of the community association, said the goal is to get voluntary compliance. The board is soliciting comments, will distribute a questionnaire on the topic and will hold a meeting in May for a final vote.

"We know we can’t do it without the community because some (fireworks) are legal," Moore said.

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