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Speakers denounce and defend fireworks at Costa Mesa forum

Speakers denounce and defend fireworks at Costa Mesa forum
Teresa Revero, center, sells fireworks at a stand in Costa Mesa supporting the Estancia High School cheer and wrestling programs in July 2014. Many youth sports and community service groups are permitted to set up fireworks stands in town for fundraising. (File photo | Daily Pilot)

Among all the traditions surrounding the Fourth of July, two of the most common in Costa Mesa are fireworks and people complaining about fireworks.

That annual back-and-forth took center stage Thursday evening at City Hall during a "Tee It Up With John" community forum sponsored by Councilman John Stephens.

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During the two-hour event, some of the more than 50 people who attended lamented the noise and disruption that fireworks cause. Pets and senior citizens are particularly affected, they said.

Conversely, representatives of some of the 36 youth sports and community service groups permitted to set up fireworks stands in town said selling the devices is vital for fundraising.

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Stephens said he understands the financial benefits of vending fireworks, especially since he's been involved with youth sports organizations.

"I'm very aware and attuned to how important it is for us to raise money for our youth groups," he said. "I know that they don't get the money they used to from government and times are tough."

On the other hand, Stephens has a dog, and when the fireworks start going off, "that little dog's heart is beating like a bird."

Each year, Costa Mesa allows area groups to sell "safe and sane" fireworks — those that don't leave the ground or explode in the air and bear a seal of approval from the California fire marshal.

Those devices can be set off in Costa Mesa between 4 and 10 p.m. July 2, 3 and 4.

For many of those at Thursday's forum, the biggest problems in Costa Mesa stem not from permitted fireworks but from illegal devices such as cherry bombs, bottle rockets, aerial shells and firecrackers.

"The grade and quality of the illegal fireworks out there are absolutely incredible," Fire Chief Dan Stefano said. "They are something that I've never seen before, and they have progressed over the course of the past few years, so there is a huge danger to that element."

The city has a zero-tolerance policy for illegal fireworks. Their use or possession is punishable by fines and possibly imprisonment.

Police Chief Rob Sharpnack said the city issued 79 citations related to illegal fireworks in 2016, about three times the number handed out the year before.

Both chiefs said it's important that residents report illegal fireworks.

Stephens floated a few ideas on how to address problems with fireworks — such as reducing the number of days they can be set off, employing undercover police officers to curtail illegal use or designating areas of town where people can gather to light them off.

Flo Martin, who attended the forum with a box full of fireworks debris she collected from her property last year, suggested staging a city-sponsored display.

The city could charge admission to a big blowout, she said, and then allocate the funds to local organizations.

John Kelly, a vice president at TNT Fireworks — a distributor that purveys legal devices in Costa Mesa and throughout the country — said an elephant in the room is that people are already using illegal fireworks and that that's likely to continue regardless of what the city does.

"I know that if we in Costa Mesa and in other communities in California don't get our arms around it, we're all going to be out of business," Kelly said. "The problem for those who are adamantly opposed to fireworks is those who are already breaking the law will continue to do so."

Barry Friedland of Costa Mesa Brief recorded Thursday's forum, and the full video can be viewed at youtu.be/x3jGU0kB2yQ.

Twitter: @LukeMMoney

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