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Voters Douse Fireworks in Culver City by 2-1 Margin

November 06, 1986|JEFF BURBANK | Times Staff Writer

Culver City voters ended the sale of safe and sane fireworks on the Westside by defeating Proposition K by nearly a 2-1 margin.

The initiative to continue the sale of fireworks was rejected in the largest turnout for a local election, according to City Clerk Pauline C. Dolce. There were 4,676 votes cast for the measure (36.3%) and 8,214 (63.7%) against.

City Council members who took part in the divisive campaign expressed surprise both at the broad margin of defeat and that 60% of the city's registered voters went to the polls.

'People Have Spoken'

"I think the voter turnout is extraordinary. Our councilmanic elections are usually around 20%," said Councilman Paul A. Jacobs, who co-chaired the No on Fireworks Committee. "I can't remember when elected officials (in Culver City) ever got such a strong message on any issue before."

Councilman Richard Brundo, a fireworks supporter, said he "was absolutely shocked" by the outcome.

"Two-to-one is definitely a big message, and it came out loud and clear. The people have spoken and I'm very dissatisfied. I thought Culver City was more traditional, and I was wrong," Brundo said. "I am absolutely amazed at the number of people who voted."

While defeat of the advisory measure does not obligate the city to ban fireworks, the five-member City Council has pledged to abide by the voters' decision. Culver City is the only remaining city on the Westside to allow fireworks, which have been sold there for half a century.

Jacobs said he will ask the city attorney on Monday to draft an ordinance banning all fireworks in the city.

Financing to Be Lost

The decision also means that the city will have to find a new way to fund its annual fireworks display. The $25,000 cost of the public show at Culver City High School has been paid out of fireworks sales proceeds.

Brundo said he is not sure why the measure fared so poorly, but said the opposition ran a strong campaign. He predicted that many fireworks supporters will turn to illegal explosives, which will increase fireworks-related injuries and fires in the city.

Councilman Richard Alexander, a fireworks supporter who last April suggested that the council place the issue on the ballot, said the outcome has laid the fireworks issue to rest. He said the vote was so overwhelming that it is unlikely it will be raised again.

"I think the result is that in future council elections we won't have the issue. It really has little to do with the future of Culver City," Alexander said.

Veterans' Fund Source

Harold Macbeth, head of a Culver City veterans organization that has sold fireworks for more than 20 years, said the ban means the veterans will stop donating funds to community activities.

"I think the community lost everything. We can't donate it if we don't make it. We will now have to take care (only) of the veterans," Macbeth said.

The pro-fireworks campaign was hurt by apathy among those who favored fireworks but chose not to vote, Macbeth said. The anti-fireworks side misled the voters by emphasizing that fireworks posed a danger of fire and personal injury, he said.

Macbeth predicted that the fireworks business would shift from Culver City to nearby Inglewood, where sales are legal.

Firm Spent $12,000

Fred Brookins, a fireworks salesman for Red Devil Fireworks Co. of Anaheim, said the company spent up to $12,000 on its campaign on behalf of the measure. He said the company will seek new outlets.

The anti-fireworks group, which included Jacobs, Mayor Paul A. Netzel, Councilwoman Jozelle Smith and four of the five members of the Culver City Board of Education, claimed that fireworks pose the risk of injury and fire.

But proponents of fireworks sales cited a report by the city Fire Department that listed fireworks as the cause of only two minor injuries and two small brush fires this summer.

Proponents of fireworks sales, which included Macbeth's committee of 10 veterans groups, called fireworks a fun, patriotic activity that brought families together during the Fourth of July. The veterans teamed up with Red Devil, the sole supplier of fireworks for Culver City, while Brundo and Alexander conducted a separate campaign.

Moriarty Became an Issue

Opponents of Proposition K made an issue of convicted political corruption figure W. Patrick Moriarty, former head of Red Devil.

Moriarty, who is serving a seven-year sentence for mail fraud, still owns stock in the company, but the shares are held by creditors. Red Devil, which has sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, has been supplying fireworks in Culver City since the 1960s.

Red Devil funded the veterans' campaign, according to a report filed with the city two weeks ago. The No on Fireworks Committee reported raising about $5,000, mostly from small contributions.

Alexander said voters reacted to publicity surrounding Moriarty more than to any other issue in the campaign. "Moriarty put a bad name (on fireworks), and I think it's a bad rap," he said.

Sold Since the 1930s

The sale and use of the nonexplosive pyrotechnics has been legal in Culver City since the 1930s. The city came close to banning sales after Smith, who campaigned against fireworks, unseated fireworks proponent A. Ronald Perkins in a city election last April.

Smith's election swung the council balance 3-2 against fireworks. Jacobs, a longtime opponent of the sales, proposed that the council immediately ban fireworks at Smith's second meeting as a council member. But Smith voted with Alexander and Brundo against banning sales this year, she said, because veterans and other nonprofit groups already had planned their 1986 budgets around the sales.

Smith then joined Netzel, Alexander and Brundo to place the issue on the ballot. Jacobs voted against using the ballot, claiming that it was a policy matter the council should resolve.

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