Although the Fourth of July is 10 months away, sparks are flying between the city councils and service groups in two San Gabriel Valley cities that have outlawed the sale of fireworks.
In the past month, the city councils of West Covina and La Verne adopted ordinances to ban the sale and use of all fireworks, including those considered safe and sane by the state fire marshal, citing the safety of citizens and property as the basis of their decisions. The so-called safe and sane fireworks include sparklers and cones.
In response, organizations such as La Verne's Lion's Club and the West Covina American Legion have separately circulated petitions to force the councils to either rescind the ordinances or hold special elections to decide the issue.
"The ordinance will impact us quite a bit," said Arthur Rubino of West Covina's American Legion Post 790. "We'll lose approximately $20,000 a year in revenue. Multiply that by five or six other organizations in the city and that's quite a bit of money."
The American Legion has banded together with the West Covina chapters of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Jewish War Veterans, the Military Order of Purple Heart and Disabled American Veterans to fight the ordinance.
These organizations say they stand to lose a large portion of their budgets if the ordinance stays in effect. Rubino said the groups use the money to fund Little League teams, Boy Scout troops, various high school groups and provide aid to underprivileged families.
Defending the fireworks ban, West Covina Mayor Nancy Manners said: "We're saying fireworks in the hands of the public has proven to be unsafe in the city. I've got letters and calls time and time again from people who favor banning fireworks."
'Easy for Them'
Manners also had harsh words for the service organizations: "Its outrageous, wanting to raise funds to do good deeds by selling something that hurts people. I wonder where their values are."
Manners noted that the council has offered to work with the veterans groups to find other methods of fund-raising, but she said the groups have declined the offer.
"The thing is, this is easy for them to do because they do it for one day and they make a lot of money because they are the only ones selling it," Manners said. In West Covina, only veterans' organizations can legally sell "safe and sane" fireworks.
Rubino denied officials' contention that safe and sane fireworks cause many of the fires that occur during Fourth of July celebrations.
"Safe and sane fireworks do not cause that much damage," he said. "Most fires are due to the 10% who don't pay attention to rules and regulations."
Rubino also argued against the city's notion that the ban will keep fireworks out of West Covina. "Banning fireworks is not going to stop them from being used in the city," he said. "People can go to other cities and buy fireworks."
The chief weapon in the service groups' arsenal is state law, which says that opponents have 30 days from the date an ordinance is enacted to gather the signatures of at least 10% of the city's registered voters.
Oct. 13 Deadline
If the petitions meet the 10% minimum, the council must either repeal the law or call a special election no more than 103 days after its reconsideration.
The West Covina veterans organizations have until Oct. 13 to garner signatures from the city's 42,350 registered voters. Rubino said that after only three days of circulating the petition, the organizations had gathered more than 1,000 signatures.
If the petition is validated and the council decides to hold an election, it will cost West Covina about $20,000, city officials said.
While fireworks proponents in West Covina have yet to turn in their petitions to City Hall, those in La Verne have already submitted their petitions and are waiting for county officials to validate it.
Earlier this month, the group handed in a petition bearing 2,728 signatures. At least 1,500 registered voters' signatures are necessary to have the petition validated.
Feeling confident that the petition has enough valid signatures, Paul Seabern, president of La Verne's Lion's Club hopes to see the matter go to a public election.
"If a majority of the people don't want fireworks, that's fine," he said. "If it goes through proper channels, that's fine."
He noted that the Lion's Club earned nearly $6,000 of its $8,000 in revenue last year through fireworks sales.
As in West Covina, a number of organizations joined together in La Verne to fight the fireworks ban. Along with the Lion's Club, the La Verne-San Dimas Pop Warner League, the Bonita Band Boosters, and the La Verne-San Dimas Junior Women's Club joined the effort.
In addition, three fireworks distributors--Freedom Fireworks, Red Devil and Magic Dragon--backed the groups with money and technical advice.
Seabern said the ordinance is unenforceable because "people want fireworks. If they can't get safe and sane fireworks, they'll get whatever they can. They'll bring them in from other cities, or leave the country and return with illegal fireworks."
Explaining the city's reasons for imposing the ban, La Verne Mayor Jon Blickenstaff said: "It's quite difficult to enforce laws when safe and sane fireworks were allowed and illegal fireworks weren't. If we were to enforce allowing no fireworks it would be much easier.
"I feel very strongly the vast majority of the community wants to do away with fireworks use."
The La Verne City Council has offered the service groups an opportunity to work in a proposed recycling program to raise funds, but so far the groups have declined, Blickenstaff said.
Blickenstaff said he does not favor holding a special election, which would cost the city between $30,000 and $40,000.
In recent weeks, council members have discussed repealing the ban and proposing severe restrictions on the use and sale of fireworks, as well as increasing the liability insurance costs of fireworks sellers. A cleanup fee for the vendors has also been discussed.