WESTMINSTER : Voters Will Decide Fireworks Question

Do "Killer Bees," "Piccolo Petes" and "Flashing Wheels" have a future in Westminster?

Voters will decide Tuesday whether to ban all fireworks in Westminster, one of seven cities in Orange County that still allow them.

The campaign has pitted safety officials, who say the devices are too dangerous, against fireworks fans who argue that a ban would be unenforceable and heavy-handed. Striking a libertarian theme, they warn of the demise of "an American freedom" and urge voters to "Keep Big Brother Away."

Pyrotechnics have been taking a beating as Orange County urbanizes. Though the state permits the sale of "safe and sane" fireworks to anyone over 18, fire officials have argued that the devices are neither safe nor sane. Twenty-one cities have banned them.

In June, 1989, the Orange County Grand Jury issued an 18-page report that found a "significant reduction in property loss and personal injury" in areas that have banned fireworks. The report found that during the Fourth of July weekend in 1988, property damage as a result of fireworks dropped to $400, contrasted with $86,700 during the same weekend in 1987.

The grand jury report urged the seven holdout cities of Buena Park, Costa Mesa, Fullerton, Garden Grove, Orange, Santa Ana and Westminster to outlaw them.

Spurred by that report, the Westminster City Council voted 3 to 2 in September to ban the sale and use of "safe and sane" fireworks. Opponents immediately launched a petition drive and collected signatures from more than 10% of the city's registered voters--enough to force a special election to decide the question, said City Clerk Mary Lou Morey.

The City Council then repealed the fireworks ban in November and decided to place the question on the city's June 5 ballot. The result is Measure E.

Even if the ban is approved by voters, the ordinance will not take effect until Aug. 1 and hence will not affect Fourth of July celebrations this year.

Among those supporting the fireworks ban is Fire Chief D'Wayne Scott. Scott said "safe and sane" fireworks, illegally or carelessly used, have caused several fires in Westminster and have also injured children.

"They are dangerous, they hurt people and they will continue to do so as long as they are bought and sold freely," he said.

Scott rejected the argument that charitable organizations will be deprived of a major fund-raising method if fireworks are outlawed. He said charities will find other ways of raising money.

Westminster Citizens for Safety, which is campaigning to keep fireworks legal, maintains that charities would lose more than $100,000 annually, jeopardizing the seniors food basket program and Little League travel.

In areas where state-approved fireworks have been banned, there is a thriving black market for illegal fireworks, including M-80s, cherry bombs and bottle rockets, they say.

It is those illegal fireworks that are to blame for the vast majority of fireworks-related fires, according to Citizens for Safety.

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