WEST COVINA — The City Council has tentatively banned the use of so-called "safe and sane" pyrotechnics, becoming the second San Gabriel Valley city to outlaw recreational fireworks since the Fourth of July holiday.
Despite pleas from a handful of veterans groups and other fireworks backers, the council voted 3 to 2 this week to prohibit the sale and use of all fireworks, even those deemed safe by the state fire marshal. The ban will come up for final approval on Aug. 22 or the council's first meeting in September.
During a lengthy public hearing before the vote, council members heard from several veterans groups that sell fireworks to raise money.
West Covina's ban brings to 16 the number of San Gabriel Valley cities prohibiting fireworks. Fireworks are also banned in all county areas. Last week, the La Verne City Council tentatively passed an ordinance outlawing all fireworks. Its ban comes up for final approval Monday.
Twelve area cities continue to allow fireworks, but that number could decrease after the Nov. 8 election. Temple City and Azusa have placed the issue on the ballot. The Azusa measure is only advisory, but may lead to a ban if voters approve.
Firecrackers, skyrockets and other more potent pyrotechnics are prohibited statewide. But items such as sparklers and cones, considered safe and sane by the fire marshal, are regulated at the local level.
Bans on fireworks have traditionally met opposition from manufacturers and service organizations, which raise money from annual sales. A handful of veterans organizations operated the 16 fireworks stands in West Covina this year.
Veterans groups, such as Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion, made $120,000 this year on fireworks sales, according to Steven J. Roberts, an attorney representing Buena Park-based Freedom Fireworks.
In a report to the council, Robert E. McClelland, general manager of the San Gabriel Valley Fire Authority, blamed safe and sane fireworks for a number of injuries, property damage and fire protection problems.
McClelland said that during the Fourth of July holiday legal fireworks caused one injury, illegal fireworks caused five and three injuries were caused by fireworks of undetermined types. Legal fireworks were responsible for eight fires, while illegal fireworks caused one.
"It seems a tragedy that on 364 days a year we tell kids not to play with matches and on one day we say it's OK," he said.
McClelland urged a ban, citing the danger for children using legal fireworks such as a sparkler, which can create a scar "you're going to have forever."
Pam Zanelli, a spokeswoman for Pyrotronics Corp. of Anaheim, which distributes the Red Devil brand fireworks, said a ban would force people to use illegal fireworks.
She said fireworks caused no more than $100 worth of damage in Arcadia from 1983 to 1987. Even though Arcadia passed a fireworks ban this year, a fireworks-related house fire caused $75,000 in damage, she said.
"That's one example of some of the situations that occur when a ban is in effect," she said.
But Jerry Gardner, the Arcadia fire chief who lives in West Covina, said the use of illegal fireworks decreased in Arcadia this year after all fireworks were banned.
"(The public) simply did not go out and buy illegal fireworks," he said. "We did have a fire, but we did not have the child who lost her eye," he said, citing a past incident in Arcadia.
Councilmen Bradley J. McFadden and William Tarozzi opposed the ban, agreeing with the speakers who argued the issue should be put on the ballot. McFadden unsuccessfully proposed a compromise that would have severely restricted where fireworks could be used within the city and prohibited sales to minors.
Mayor Nancy Manners and Councilmen Richard B. Lewis and Robert L. Bacon opposed the ballot initiative, saying the $18,000 to $20,000 cost would be an unjustified use of city money.
"I'm tired of people in legislative positions not being able to decide things," Lewis said. "It's our responsibility to make a decision."
Arthur T. Rubino, representing the 878-member American Legion Post 790, vowed to begin a referendum drive to put the ban to a vote.
"The city's going to wind up spending the $20,000 anyway," he said.