Proposition K, the fireworks sales measure on Culver City's ballot, has pitted two councilmen, 10 veterans groups and a fireworks company against most of the city's elected officials.
If the proposition passes on Nov. 4, fireworks sales will continue and cannot be banned without another election. If it is defeated, all five council members have said they will pass a law prohibiting the sale and use of fireworks.
Central to the controversy is whether fireworks present a safety hazard. Proponents of the measure say that state-approved, so-called "safe-and-sane" pyrotechnics are a safe, fun and patriotic activity unique to Culver City.
But opponents, including three City Council members and four members of the Culver City Board of Education, argue that fireworks pose the danger of fire and personal injury and are hazardous to people and property in surrounding cities with which Culver City has mutual-aid agreements.
"Part of the problem is we are letting (other residents) purchase and use them in communities where (fireworks) are prohibited," said Mayor Paul A. Netzel, who opposes Proposition K. "Culver City people are not the only ones purchasing and using fireworks."
Culver City is the only city on the Westside to permit the sale of fireworks, which have been legal there since the 1930s. The more than $500,000 in safe-and-sane fireworks sold there annually makes Culver City the top market in the state for the Red Devil Fireworks Co. of Anaheim, the sole supplier of fireworks in Culver City and the state's No. 1 fireworks seller.
Nearly $10,000 Spent
Red Devil, along with 10 veterans groups that fund their activities with fireworks sales proceeds, has organized a campaign to pass Proposition K. So far, the company has spent $9,600 on lawn signs, advertisements and flyers. It recently hired several college-age campaign workers to walk precincts in the evenings and on weekends.
The veterans argue that fireworks sales stands are their primary source of income. The groups receive $25,000 to $50,000 each year from sales and use the money for high school scholarships, sports teams, Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops, vocational programs for veterans and other activities.
The veterans groups are given 5% to 10% of the gross proceeds from Red Devil, which operates the stands.
Council members Jozelle Smith and Paul A. Jacobs said Culver City should not allow Red Devil to sell fireworks in the city because of the company's association with W. Patrick Moriarty, who is serving a seven-year sentence for mail fraud.
In Financial Trouble
Jan Lawrence Handzlik, Moriarty's attorney, said that while Red Devil is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings, Moriarty still owns stock in the company, although the shares are held by creditors.
"Moriarty is a major fireworks supplier," Smith said. "In no way do I think we should be lining the pockets of Moriarty . . . There's just no way we should be tied to him in any shape or form."
But Councilman Richard Brundo said, "Moriarty has no involvement in this campaign."
Red Devil and the veterans began their campaign within the last two weeks. Brundo and fellow fireworks supporter Councilman Richard Alexander did not form a committee and do not plan to raise money, Brundo said. Their campaign has consisted exclusively of public debates with fireworks opponents Netzel and Jacobs.
4 School Board Members
The No on Fireworks Committee organized in July is run by Netzel, Jacobs, Smith and Board of Education members Diane Pannone, Bob Knopf, Julie Lugo Cerra and Kaye Lyou.
The anti-fireworks group has raised $5,000 so far to defeat the measure. It mailed a fund-raising letter to voters last month and also will distribute lawn signs and handbills, Smith said. An "all-American-style" rally is scheduled for 3 p.m. today next to the Veterans Park swimming pool, where campaign workers will sell lemonade, candy and apple pie.
The measure is not expected to have much impact on voter turnout, City Clerk Pauline C. Dolce said. Turnout in the April city election was 25.5% of the approximately 20,000 registered voters, Dolce said.
A debate on the measure between Jacobs and Brundo will take place at 11:30 a.m. Friday at a Chamber of Commerce meeting at the Pacifica hotel, 6161 Centinela Ave.