In a decision that is sure to keep the controversy over fireworks sales alive in Culver City for months to come, the City Council voted Monday night to draft a law banning fireworks sales in 1987 and then turned around and put the issue on the November ballot.
The council, after nearly two hours of public testimony and sometimes sharp debate, voted 5 to 0 to prepare the law.
It also voted 4 to 1 to put the issue on the ballot, with longtime fireworks foe Paul A. Jacobs dissenting.
Earlier in the evening, the council voted down a Jacobs proposal to ban fireworks this year. Newly elected Councilwoman Jozelle Smith joined colleague Richard M. Alexander in supporting Councilman Richard Brundo's motion to permit sales this year. Mayor Paul A. Netzel and Jacobs opposed it.
Smith, who said she is against fireworks sales, cast the deciding vote for the 1987 ban. But she said Monday she was convinced that it was too late to ban fireworks this year. To do so, she said, would "pull the rug out" from under the nonprofit groups that have based their budgets on this year's fireworks proceeds.
"I resent the role as the swing vote," she said. She also criticized members of the council "who have let things go this far" before deciding to ban sales.
Jacobs said after the meeting that he was surprised when Smith voted against banning fireworks this year and supported the ballot measure.
"I think her willingness to put it on the ballot is certainly a change (in her position on fireworks)," he said. "I didn't hear discussion about voting (for a ballot measure) during the election from her. I'm disappointed she didn't have the strength to hold to her own feelings about it."
Smith said she favored the ballot initiative because the sales are so controversial.
"I didn't anticipate putting it on the ballot, but if it's that emotional and that volatile an issue, it does sound as if people will not be satisfied unless they see it on the ballot," she said.
Alexander, a fireworks supporter who proposed the ballot measure, said the issue was "trivial" compared to other city issues such as traffic congestion. He said that safe and sane fireworks do not pose a serious safety or fire hazard and that it is Culver City's prerogative to differ with surrounding communities on fireworks sales.
"We may be right, L. A. may be wrong. Maybe we have a right to our own opinion," he said.
Fireworks have been sold for decades in Culver City, the only city on the Westside to permit the sales. More than $500,000 in fireworks are sold by nonprofit groups each year, making the city the top market in the state for safe and sane fireworks.
The overflow crowd at Monday's meeting included representatives of 10 veterans and other nonprofit groups that were chosen by the city to sell fireworks from June 29 to July 4.
Members of the groups told the council that a ban on fireworks would deprive them of a major source of their funds for scholarships, sports and other community activities they sponsor.
One-Third of Budget
Sidney F. Jelin, commander of the Cpl. David Allen Post 667, Jewish War Veterans of the USA, said that the veterans' groups derive 25% to 30% of their total funds from fireworks sales and would not be able to recoup the loss if sales were banned.
He said that the ballot initiative was better than an outright ban because the veterans can take their case to the voters.
"At least it leaves us with an avenue to convince people that we should have fireworks," he said. "If the decision lies with the people, we have to conform with it. But it's our job to convince them that it's the way to go. (Fireworks sales are) the only thing that we have to look forward to as a major fund-raising source."
Jelin, vice president of the Culver City Veterans Coordinating Council, which oversees the fireworks sales, said the organization will meet soon to discuss its campaign for the fall initiative.