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LOCAL ELECTION / REFERENDUM : Issue of Ban on Fireworks Causes Sparks in Cerritos


CERRITOS — Voters here are being asked to tell the City Council on Election Day whether they want to bar the sale and use of Fourth of July fireworks.

The referendum on the Nov. 6 ballot is only advisory, but the council has promised to abide by the results.

The ballot measure asks voters whether they want to continue the sale and use of fireworks, which means a yes vote is a vote against a ban. A no vote supports a ban. Fireworks manufacturers and local public-service groups that sell them to pay for their activities are waging a campaign against a ban. There is no organized effort so far in support of a ban.

Manufacturers have long argued that it is better to allow what they have dubbed "safe and sane" fireworks than to bar all such items, forcing revelers to turn to illegal, "unsafe" fireworks that, manufacturers say, cause the fires and injuries that occur on the Fourth.

"All the damage that is being attributed to my client's product is totally erroneous," said Dennis C. Revell, the Sacramento public relations spokesman for American West Marketing, Inc., a fireworks manufacturer.

Revell said that when communities bar the sale and use of all fireworks, the incidence of fires and injuries actually increases, because youngsters make dangerous explosive devices. Even in cities that allow fireworks, he said, fires are ignited by illegal types.

Revell said all five fireworks fires that occurred this year in Cerritos were caused by illegal devices, not state-licensed "safe and sane" fireworks. He said his statistics came from the Los Angeles County Fire Department, which provides the city's fire services.

American West is helping to pay for a mailer campaign against a ban. Revell will not say how much the firm is spending and insisted that the campaign is a grass-roots effort in cooperation with local Cerritos residents.

About 10 groups each year obtain permits from the city to sell fireworks during the week leading up to the holiday. Among them are churches, Little League Baseball associations and such civic organizations as the Optimist Club.

The Cerritos Rod & Gun Club, which co-sponsors the city's annual fishing derby each June for youngsters under 15, receives about 90% of its annual income from fireworks sales, according to Dennis Peterson, past president of the club.

The council announced last year that it planned to put the issue on the November ballot so groups would have plenty of time to come up with alternative fund-raising in case voter sentiment went against fireworks.

However, Peterson said, his group has no alternative in mind. Fireworks sales generate $7,000 to $8,000 for the club each year.

"There aren't a lot of activities that you can raise that kind of revenue with," he said.

Not all the groups selling fireworks, however, have fared as well financially as Peterson's organization. The Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1846 stopped selling fireworks this year. Ray Vargas, past VFW commander, said the group's profit turned out to be very small after paying a percentage of the sales to the manufacturing firm.

Vargas said the VFW made only about $500 last year.

The VFW membership has mixed feelings about prohibiting fireworks, Vargas said: "It's about a 50-50 split, because a lot of residents are living now with shake roofs."

When housing tracts were built in Cerritos 20 years ago, the city, as part of an effort to ensure uniform designs, required all houses to have shake roofs. The wood roofs were less expensive than tile roofs, but city and fire officials note that shake can be ignited easily by a bottle rocket or other incendiaries.

New city regulations require that tile be used when a roof is replaced, but many residences still have their original roofs--which is what prompted the council to take up the fireworks issue.

Unsure themselves last year whether to outlaw fireworks or let community groups go on raising money through sales, council members left the decision up to voters.

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