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Drive to OK San Fernando Fireworks Sales Voided : Signature Collectors Failed Residency Test

Times Staff Writer

A petition asking the city of San Fernando to again make fireworks sales legal was thrown out Monday because the city clerk decided the two men who collected the signatures were not city residents.

City Administrator and Clerk Donald E. Penman cited a letter to the city from Ralph Arriola, owner and resident of a San Fernando house the two petitioners listed as their residence. Arriola, executive director of the Latin American Civic Assn., wrote that the two men never spent time at his house at 618 Lazard St.

“If they were to walk up to me on the street I would be unable to even recognize them,” said Arriola, whose wife, Helen, is a San Fernando city planning commissioner. “At no time did the two young men who circulated the petitions ever live at or visit my home.”

Under state law, petition sponsors and those gathering signatures all must be residents and registered voters in the city.

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State Election Codes

“It’s clear to me that the sponsors never set foot in that house,” Penman said. “I don’t believe this complies with state election codes and therefore do not find the petition to be a valid one.”

The petitions were filed April 6 by Daniel J. Wilson, 22, and Jess Paul Engler, 23, who had registered as voters at Arriola’s address one week before collecting signatures.

Pyrodyne American, the fireworks firm that employs Wilson and Engler, will not challenge Penman’s decision, said Thomas E. Elenbaas, the firm’s attorney.

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The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office said Monday that the ruling will not affect its criminal investigation of the matter. Deputy Dist. Atty. James R. Hickey said his office has not decided whether criminal voter fraud charges will be sought against Pyrodyne, Arriola or Wilson and Engler.

Determination Sought

San Fernando city officials asked the district attorney to determine whether voter registration laws were violated and whether Wilson and Engler personally collected all the signatures, as required by law.

The city’s decision, announced at Monday night’s City Council meeting, means that the ban on the sale of fireworks is now city law.

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The petition, bearing 815 signatures, was filed the day the law was to have taken effect. But state law required that it be suspended until the issue was settled because the petition appeared to have the signatures of at least 10% of the city’s voters.

The council abolished Fourth of July fireworks sales under pressure from the Los Angeles Fire Department, which threatened to discontinue service to San Fernando if sales continued. The ban affected about 20 charitable and community groups that sold the fireworks as a fund-raising activity.

Contacted by ‘Friend’

Arriola, whose organization sold fireworks, said in the letter that he was contacted about four weeks ago “by a dear friend” whom he did not identify. The friend asked “about using my address and residence for a petition drive attempting to get one more year of fireworks sales for the city’s charitable organizations,” Arriola wrote.

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Arriola did not say whether he was aware of the requirement that petitioners be legal residents of the city. But he did say he now believes that he was misled about the petition. When he realized that it called for repeal of the ordinance or a special election, rather than just a request to sell fireworks this year, “I wanted no part of these people’s efforts,” he wrote.

Arriola also apologized. “I realize that this whole episode was ill-advised and ill-conceived.” He could not be reached for comment Monday.

Elenbaas said Pyrodyne American employees had circulated the petition “for the benefit of the charitable organizations” in San Fernando.

Mayor Daniel Acuna disagreed, calling the fireworks-industry-supported petition “reprehensible.”

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“Their position was one of greed,” Acuna said of industry officials. “We were put in danger of having our fire-service contract taken away.”


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