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Big Push Expected Before W. Covina Fireworks Vote

Times Staff Writer

The battle over fireworks sold for the Fourth of July could end with a whimper or a bang, depending on which side of Tuesday’s vote you are on.

Both sides are gearing up for a weekend blitz of door-to-door campaigning and direct mailings in hopes of swaying voters to uphold or reject the city’s fireworks ban. The rhetoric is high, with pyrotechnic supporters calling for preservation of a patriotic pastime and opponents arguing for increased public safety.

Roger C. Busch, commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8620, which has led the fight against the ban, predicts that residents will vote to eliminate it.

“The people that I talk to want to continue having fireworks at their leisure and don’t want to travel out of town,” Busch said. “If they want to see a public display, there’s none in West Covina.

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“The Fourth of July isn’t the same without fireworks.”

But Steve Millar, chairman of Citizens to Ban Fireworks, argues that the holiday would be better without so-called safe-and-sane pyrotechnics.

“There is no sense in trying to convince people that fireworks are safe; the statistics just don’t support it,” Millar said. “I just find it amazing that 364 days out of the year, parents tell their children that fire is dangerous and then on one day they say, ‘go at it.’ ”

Last August, the council banned fireworks, but the veterans forced the referendum on the ordinance by gathering signatures from 10% of the city’s voters. One fireworks manufacturer has estimated that the five veterans groups, the only organizations allowed to sell fireworks, made $120,000 from pyrotechnics sales last Independence Day. Busch said his post, like the other veterans organizations, would have to cut most of its service programs if the law is upheld.

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The election will cost the city about $37,000, in addition to the nearly $8,000 it cost to verify the referendum petitions last year.

State law prohibits firecrackers, bottle rockets and more potent pyrotechnics. But sparklers, cones and others fireworks that emit sparks but do not shoot or explode have been deemed safe and sane by the state fire marshal and are regulated by local governments.

In the San Gabriel Valley, 15 communities prohibit all fireworks, the most recent being La Verne whose voters upheld the city’s ban in a similar referendum election on Feb. 7. The county has outlawed fireworks in all unincorporated areas.

As of last week, fireworks proponents in West Covina had outspent opponents by a large margin.

The Committee to Ban Fireworks had amassed $5,395 and spent $2,482 on campaign signs, literature and mailings, according to the latest financial disclosure statement.

The West Covina Police Assn., whose officers walked precincts last weekend, contributed $500 to the effort. Other large contributors included Mayor Nancy Manners--who contributed $130 in addition to a $1,000 loan--and Councilman Robert L. Bacon, who contributed $250.

The city’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Post was the main conduit for funds for the other side, providing $2,400 and receiving contributions from four other veterans groups and two fireworks makers.

According to incomplete disclosure statements, about $22,700 had been spent in the effort to overturn the ban, primarily for gathering signatures for the petitions. Nearly half of the money, $10,700, came from Trojan Fireworks Co. and Pyrodyne-American Corp.

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The city has fined veterans organizations just over $1,000 for filing late and incomplete disclosure forms, City Clerk Janet Berry said. Last week, Berry sent a letter to Busch, commander of Post 8620, explaining the violations and asking for payment of the fines.

“Nobody ever mentioned anything about filing these papers,” Busch said. “It was a total surprise to our group. Hopefully, we’ll have it all straightened out by the end of the week.”

Despite being outspent, Manners--who was instrumental in passing the ban--predicted that the ordinance would be upheld.

“I feel we will prevail because the spending of the money and blitz doesn’t automatically translate into votes,” Manners said.

The mayor said she hoped for a replay of the La Verne vote, in which fireworks opponents were far outspent but prevailed by a 3-1 margin.

Busch acknowledged that the outcome in La Verne hurt his cause but said that the West Covina voters may not follow suit.

“La Verne was a devastating loss to us, especially because of the vote,” he said. “But I think we have an outstanding chance of winning this, especially after talking to people.”


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