UPDATED: Board Considers Public Awareness Campaigns Targeting Fentanyl, Fireworks

City News Service Pristine Villarreal

RIVERSIDE (CNS) – The Board of Supervisors Tuesday approved a $275,000 contract with a media marketing firm to conduct a summer-long public awareness campaign emphasizing the penalties for illegal use of fireworks in Riverside County and the dangers of fentanyl.

In a 3-0 vote — with Supervisors Manuel Perez and Karen Spiegel absent — the board signed off on county CEO Jeff Van Wagenen’s proposed three- month compact with Fountain Valley-based 3 Olives Media LLC to handle social media, traditional media and other messaging focused on anti-fentanyl advertising and fireworks education outreach.

“A robust public information campaign regarding the use of illegal fireworks and enforcement programs will enhance the safety of our communities by lessening associated risks,” according to an Executive Office statement. “Fentanyl has become a public health crisis that continues to affect the residents of Riverside County. This marketing campaign is intended to raise awareness of the dangers of fentanyl and prevent fentanyl deaths.”

District Attorney Mike Hestrin told the board Monday there were 503 confirmed fentanyl-related fatalities last year, compared to just under 400 in 2021, a 200-fold increase from 2016, when there were only two.

The awareness campaign will combine the use of public service announcements via social media with roadside digital billboards and broadcast messages utilizing satellite radio, AM/FM radio and cable television. The PSAs will be in both English and Spanish, generally 30 seconds in duration, warning of the ways the smallest amount of fentanyl can kill.

The fireworks education program will focus on highlighting the county’s regulations on pyrotechnics and the penalties that can be assessed for igniting them around the Fourth of July, or any other time of year.

In April, the board signed off on the 2023 Fireworks Safety & Enforcement Action Plan to deter use of illegal pyrotechnics in unincorporated communities.

The action plan concept was first implemented just prior to the July 4th celebrations in 2021. A “You Light It, We Write It” campaign was initiated using changeable electronic message signs, referring to the potential for steep fines for illegally igniting fireworks.

In April 2021, the Office of County Counsel, in collaboration with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department and Cal Fire Riverside, drafted amendments to long-standing regulations codified under county Ordinance No. 858 prohibiting illegal pyrotechnics.

Under the amendments, higher civil penalties were established, ranging between $1,000 and $5,000. The amount depends on the number of violations within a 36-month period. The previous fines were between $500 and $1,000.

The revisions also created liabilities for property owners who knowingly permit someone to light illegal fireworks, further increasing penalties.

The final provision of the revised ordinance granted the county fire chief authority to designate specific locations in unincorporated areas where so-called “safe and sane” fireworks can be sold and ignited. In Blythe, Coachella, Desert Hot Springs and Indio, the devices — such as sparklers, fountains and snappers — are permitted.

This year’s awareness campaign will function much the same as the anti- fentanyl messaging, relying on roadside digital billboards, newspaper space, satellite radio, AM/FM radio and social media posts to reach residents.

The campaigns will conclude by the end of August. Roughly half of the contract will be covered by General Fund dollars, with the balance composed of state and federal money, according to the Executive Office.

Copyright 2023, City News Service, Inc.

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