Council OKs lifting ban on fireworks' sales

The Huntington Beach City Council voted Tuesday to lift the ban on the usage and sale of so-called "safe-and-sane fireworks" during the Fourth of July holiday for a trial period of two years, despite strong opposition from the police and fire chiefs and dozens of residents who spoke in opposition.

The council approved the ordinance with a 5-2 vote, with Councilwoman Connie Boardman and Councilman Joe Shaw dissenting.

"I'm going to work as hard as I can ... to repeal it," Boardman said.

Mayor Don Hansen introduced the proposal as his first item on the list as mayor and said he wanted Huntington Beach residents to enjoy the tradition of fireworks just like neighboring cities that allow it.

The ordinance was drafted with strict guidelines in an effort to minimize fire risks. Fireworks will not be allowed in city beaches, parks, environmentally sensitive areas, everything on the ocean-facing side of Pacific Coast Highway, the specific downtown business area and all streets except sidewalks and alleys in residential districts.

Boardman said the guidelines are likely to confuse some residents and especially the nearly half a million visitors who flock to Huntington Beach on the Fourth of July.

Hansen said there will be an educational component with the ordinance and signs letting people know they cannot use fireworks.

Huntington's police and fire departments have said they are already stretched thin during the Fourth of July holiday and the lift will be an added hurdle.

Fires related to so-called safe-and-sane fireworks have drastically been reduced since the city banned fireworks in 1987, following an Orange County Grand Jury report that recommended a countywide ban.

It all seemed to come down, however, to opposing ideologies on the council.

"This is an issue about people having choices," Councilman Matthew Harper said.

Resident Tim Geddes spoke in opposition to lifting the ban and also pointed out a trend of recent decisions made by the council, including the density in downtown and the overdevelopment of the Edinger Street corridor.

"It is failure of some of our decision-makers and planners to adequately assess the public safety impact of the moves they make," he said.

There were a few who spoke in favor of fireworks, including Maria Toner, secretary of Edison High School's Band Boosters, who said selling fireworks will help with needed fundraising for sports teams.

Resident Clem Dominguez told councilmen Joe Carchio and Harper that he was surprised with their support of the lift from a political standpoint. Harper is running for Assembly, and Carchio has said he is considering it.

"If nothing happens this Fourth of July, which I hope, you get no credit," Dominguez said. "But if a fire or a riot should occur, you are sure to get all the blame. Blame for lack of judgment and blame for going against the recommendations of our fire chief and police chief."

Ten safe-and-sane fireworks sale permits are expected to be issued this year and 20 next year, with priority going to the city's Fourth of July executive board.

The rest of the permits will be distributed through a lottery process to nonprofits that wish to sell fireworks for fundraising purposes, according to the ordinance. The organizations that didn't get a permit can negotiate a deal with the Fourth of July board to sell fireworks.

Once the ordinance goes into effect, it will make Huntington Beach the only beach city in Southern California that allows the sale and usage of fireworks.

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