Despite strong opposition from both the fire and police chiefs, the Huntington Beach City Council voted Monday to draft an ordinance that would lift the ban on the sale and usage of fireworks during the Fourth of July season.
"I'm your fire chief and I'm here to tell you, they're dangerous," Chief Patrick McIntosh said. "They pose a threat."
The proposal passed 5 to 2, putting Huntington Beach on track to become the only beach city in Southern California that would allow the sale and use of state-approved fireworks.
Councilwoman Connie Boardman, who gave a long presentation in opposition to legalizing fireworks in the city, and Councilman Joe Shaw voted against the proposal.
The ordinance was initiated by Mayor Don Hansen, and it is his first work order as mayor of the city.
Although McIntosh cited millions in property-damage losses due to fireworks, including the state-approved ones, throughout Orange County before a grand jury suggested a ban, Hansen defended the proposal, saying Huntington Beach can do it safely.
"Huntington Beach is a responsible, thoughtful and patriotic community," he said. "If communities such as Costa Mesa and Westminster can move forward with successful ordinances and have these fireworks in the city, I believe Huntington Beach can do the same."
The city banned fireworks in 1987 following a county grand jury report that encouraged all cities to ban them after major injuries and loss of property occurred.
At the time, Huntington Beach residents were surveyed on whether to keep or ban fireworks, and 67% of those who responded wanted them banned, Boardman said.
She asked the council to consider surveying residents again through the water bill before moving to lift the ban, but her request was not taken into consideration.
In 1986, Huntington Beach had 14 structure fires, 10 of which were started by safe and sane fireworks, McIntosh said.
A 2007-08 grand jury report found that the use of illegal fireworks increases in cities that allow the sale of legal fireworks, because they're easy to hide behind the banner of legal ones, Boardman said in her PowerPoint presentation.
Some law enforcement officials in Orange County cities that allow the sale of fireworks said they were overwhelmed with calls for service and described areas in their cities as "war zones," according to the grand jury report, Boardman said.
Police Chief Ken Small told the council members he understood that nothing he could say or do would change their minds, but that given his more than 40 years of experience, legalizing fireworks in Huntington Beach was not a good idea, it would further stretch the Police Department and put its personnel in a predicament.
Some Sunset Beach residents voiced concerns with the legalization of fireworks, saying their town has many old structures and a small fire could easily take out a whole block of homes.