CERRITOS — The City Council is scheduled tonight h to consider a ban on the sale and use of fireworks, an issue that has council members trying to balance the interests of worried homeowners against the needs of public service groups that raise money selling fireworks.
"I'm firmly entrenched in the middle and don't know what to do," said Councilwoman Ann Joynt.
When the council first addressed the issue last month, Joynt indicated she favored a ban. "I've watched two houses burn down because of them," she said this week.
After hearing from local service groups that have been lobbying the council in recent weeks, Joynt admits she is having second thoughts about the wisdom of city interference in the fireworks market place. "The club people are just adamantly for (fireworks) because it's a fund-raiser," she said.
Groups Depend on Money
About 10 Cerritos-based groups, ranging from Little League to the Optimist Club, depend on the money they make from fireworks sales every July to finance a year's worth of activities.
"It's our main fund-raiser," said Bryna Dambrowski of the Assembly of God Church of Cerritos. Its youth group and boys club have sold fireworks for five years.
Sale proceeds, Dambrowski said, help underwrite camping trips, outings to Magic Mountain and Disneyland and, last year, a youth mission trip to the Asian nation of Singapore.
The Cerritos Rod and Gun Club, according to its president, Dennis Petersen, gets 90% of its annual income from fireworks sales. This year, he said, the nonprofit club earned between $7,000 and $8,000 that will be spent on such things as hunting and fishing outings and Christmas gift baskets for needy families.
Also, the club and the city co-sponsor a fishing derby each June for youngsters under 15. Money from sales of fireworks, Petersen said, helps pay for bait, trophies and fish to stock the derby pond at Cerritos Regional Park.
Despite heavy lobbying from service groups, Mayor Diana Needham is strongly supporting a ban, largely because of the fire danger posed by fireworks.
"The preponderance of roofs in the city are wooden roofs of the age of 20 years," she said. "It's a very dangerous fire hazard. The majority of cities in Los Angeles County have banned fireworks and I think it's time that we do the same."
When Cerritos housing tracts were built in the late 60s and early 70s, the city required developers to use wooden or tile roofs. Because wood was cheaper, it was used most often, Needham and Joynt say. As the original roofs are replaced, new non-flammable materials will take the place of wood, city officials say.
But now, because most houses have old, dry, wooden roofs, Needham said, Cerritos is at the "most dangerous stage it has ever been at."
Needham believes most city residents favor a ban. But if the council hears only from fireworks manufacturers and clubs that sell their products, she said, "we may not be able to garner the votes for a ban."
The vote is expected to be close. Council members Daniel Wong and Paul Bowen indicated during the initial discussion last month that they oppose a ban. If Joynt sides with Needham, then Councilman Barry Rabbitt is the swing vote on the five-member council. He would not say this week whether he is for or against a ban.
Roof Caught Fire
Rabbitt, however, brought the issue to the council this summer after a home went up in flames because its roof was set on fire by a Fourth of July rocket. According to a city staff report, it was the second large house fire in three years caused by fireworks igniting a roof.
Proponents of fireworks sales say the novelties they sell are "safe and sane" and that it is the illegal, rocket-type fireworks that cause injuries and fires. Legal fireworks, Petersen said, do not explode, do not fly into the air and do not leave the ground. If the legal fireworks are banned, he and others say, the use of illegal fireworks will only increase.
Fire officials, however, contend that banning all fireworks is the only way to stop injuries and fires. Los Angeles County Assistant Fire Chief Stephen Sherrill, department liaison to the city of Cerritos, said police and firefighters cannot adequately protect communities if they must spend much of their time trying to distinguish between legal and illegal fireworks.
Sherrill said 39 cities in the county allow fireworks, while 47 cities, along with the unincorporated areas of the county, are under a ban.
Southeast area cities that allow fireworks, according to a list compiled by the Cerritos city staff, include Bellflower, La Mirada, Lakewood, Norwalk, Paramount, Santa Fe Springs, Artesia, Bell Gardens, Commerce, Downey, Lynwood, Montebello, Pico Rivera and South Gate. Cities that ban fireworks include Whittier, Vernon and Long Beach.