Fourth of July brings fun, funds and concern

An often controversial issue in Costa Mesa, the sale and display of fireworks means a few days of more noise, more people and more police.

But Costa Mesa police Lt. Mark Manley said it is important to the department to allow people to enjoy the Fourth of July holiday while making sure they stay safe. The problem isn't with people using the designated "safe and sane" fireworks sold at stands within the city, but rather it is the paraphernalia brought in from outside that causes concern, he said.

"There are those who fire off illegal fireworks that are not safe and sane and are a safety hazard," he said. "You can imagine if people shoot them off and they land on the Westside in Fairview Park or in the riverbed area."

Last year, the council approved an citywide extension of fireworks sales and displays. Manley said there are no planned changes to those regulations this year.

Fireworks may be sold beginning June 30 and discharged starting July 2.

According to a 2011 post-Fourth of July report to then-interim Police Chief Dennis Kies, the department was able to handle the change in police activity.

The report shows that between July 1 and July 4, 455 calls for service were reported — 387 routine fireworks calls requiring no contact and handled on a case-by-case prioritized basis, 59 requiring a police officer response and contact, and nine handled by the Fire Department.

"Based upon all of the available information, although there was an increase in the number of days to use fireworks and this increased the number of calls for service, staff reported fewer complaints and adequate staffing to appropriately handle the higher call volume," the report stated.

Councilman Steve Mensinger called last year's extension a test and said it went well, but there is still a problem with illegal fireworks.

"We have asked police and fire to focus intensely on trying to control the illegal fireworks," he said.

One of the main reasons the city still allows fireworks is that selling them benefits school and community programs.

Costa Mesa High School PTA President Jennifer Piatti said she is involved with several school booster clubs and, in most cases, fireworks sales are those clubs' biggest fundraiser of the year.

Last year, the Costa Mesa High's drama department raised $4,352. She said like many groups, drama will need to make the money last.

"Band, performing art boosters, cheer and aquatics have programs that run all year long, not just for a season," she said.

Estancia High School Principal Kirk Bauermeister said for some of his school's smaller programs, a fireworks stand is the No. 1 fundraiser for the year. He said some might not be able to keep going without it.

"It would be hard for us to replicate making that amount of money in that amount of time," he said.

He said he thinks the problem isn't with the fireworks sold at stands within the city, it's with illegal fireworks brought here from places like Mexico.

"My neighborhood is like a war zone, but it's from people shooting off things like bottle rockets," he said.

Mensinger said those fireworks have to be eliminated but agrees that the money raised from the stands are essential to city and school programs.

A booster for the Estancia football team, he said the annual fireworks fundraiser earns the team about $25,000 of the $150,000 they have to raise for the year. Fireworks stands raise an estimated $350,000 to $400,000 for about 35 youth sports and community activities, he said.

To provide a balance between the dangers and benefits of allowing fireworks in the city, Manley said the Police Department is planning to have additional staff who will work in collaboration with the Fire Department and will focus on fireworks and calls for service. They will be proactive in looking for fireworks-related problems, he said.

Fireworks may be sold from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. June 30 to July 3, and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. July 4. They may be discharged from 4 to 10 p.m. July 2 through 4.

Fireworks are not allowed in city parks. Only fireworks designated as safe and sane are allowed. People younger than 18 are not allowed to set off fireworks, and anyone caught possessing illegal fireworks or using legal fireworks in an unsafe way may be fined up to $500.

alicia.lopez2@latimes.com

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