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Culver City Ignites Criticism With Fireworks Sales

July 04, 1985|JAMES RAINEY | Times Staff Writer

To the dismay of neighboring cities and fire officials, Culver City has continued a more than 30-year tradition by allowing firework sales this year.

The city is the only one on the Westside that permits sale of so-called "safe and sane" fireworks for July 4. City officials said they are upholding an American tradition and bringing families together by permitting fireworks.

Fire department officials in nearby cities and the County of Los Angeles, which also has prohibited fireworks, criticize Culver City and other municipalities that continue to permit fireworks sales.

The problem particularly exasperates Los Angeles fire officials because of the proximity of the stands to areas they patrol. Residents of the Los Angeles community of Venice, for example, can walk just one block to a stand on Washington Boulevard and Glencoe Avenue in Culver City.

"It's kind of frustrating," said Capt. Gary Salyer of the Los Angeles City Fire Department's fire prevention bureau. "Our thinking in Los Angeles is that we don't believe in any type of fireworks. But we can't control other jurisdictions."

The county chapter of the California Fire Chiefs Assn. has tried to lobby city councils in Culver City and elsewhere to stop the sales, according to Carl Johnson, Covina's fire chief.

According to Johnson, 46 jurisdictions in the county allow fireworks and 35 do not. But the area and total population prohibited from using fireworks is much larger because both the city and the county have prohibitions.

The city Fire Department has mounted an aggressive anti-fireworks campaign, using donated space in magazines, on billboards and on television. One billboard shows a doll charred by flames. As with all the advertisements the caption reads, "There is nothing cool about fireworks." About 300,000 flyers with the same message were distributed to children before the close of school for summer. And banners on fire and police stations around the city remind that use of fireworks is illegal.

The advertising campaign has been expanded each summer for the last four years and fire department officials say it is responsible for reducing fire damage and injuries in Los Angeles on the July 4 weekend.

Last year, there were 122 damage cases with a total property loss of $132,000, compared to 500 cases and a loss of $2.1 million in 1981, fire officials said. Injuries were reduced from 45 to 19 between 1983 and 1984.

Buyers are often confused when the fireworks they buy in Culver City are confiscated as illegal just a block or two away in Los Angeles, according to Capt. Ed Stephens of the city Fire Department's legal unit. Because of the confusion, the department rarely attempts to prosecute offenders, Stephens said.

Even Culver City fire officials are opposed to firework sales. "I don't think anyone in the fire service can support the sale of fireworks," said Culver City Fire Marshall Robin Smith. "In the past, we have not encouraged the sale of fireworks. But we are agents of the city. We do not set the policy. We enforce the regulations that the City Council sets and try to make it as safe an environment as we can."

Fire officials have been unable to persuade the City Council majority--which says the fireworks are safe, patriotic and a benefit to charitable groups--to stop the sales.

Safety Record Cited

Councilman Paul Netzel, who has supported firework sales, said Culver City has an unusually good safety record on July 4. He said residents are encouraged to use city parks that are patrolled by firefighters and police.

And, Netzel said, people like fireworks. "It's about a 30-year tradition in the city," he said. "I have not had any compelling evidence that in our community we should not continue to sell fireworks. And I think it's an American tradition. I think it's one of the great opportunities that our city has to allow a family to be together for an activity."

Councilman Paul Jacobs also voted to allow fireworks sales this year, after eight years of opposition.

Jacobs said he changed his vote for several reasons, including the fact that he had no support on the council for a fireworks ban. He also said he voted for the sale because all charitable organizations in the city may now apply to set up booths. Previously, veterans' groups had a monopoly on the Culver City fireworks trade. Jacobs also pointed to the city's good safety record.

But he admitted that the policy is not popular in neighboring cities. "Sure, I wish we were more sensitive to the policies of our neighbors and the safety of neighboring areas," Jacobs said. "It's not something I'm particularly proud of. Los Angeles, Beverly Hills and Santa Monica have prohibited fireworks. It certainly does not do much to help those cities have what they believe is in their best interest.

"I think there are a lot of ways that people can celebrate our history rather than light off an explosive device that will give a few seconds of enjoyment. It seems to me there are much better ways to celebrate patriotism and a great history."

Jacobs also said fireworks have less to do with American history than they do with the financial gain of manufacturers.

Smith, the fire marshal, said the department used to present statistics to the City Council each year on fireworks-related accidents and property damage. But since the council members have shown no intention of changing their minds the presentations have been discontinued.

"They are aware of our feelings," Smith said.

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