November 4, 2006

Lakewood fireworks debate blazes

Local: Nonprofits say Measure D would cut into their fundraising.

By Karen Robes, Staff writer
11/04/2006 10:51:49 PM PST

LAKEWOOD - Debate over a ballot measure to ban fireworks here has been heating up in the weeks leading up to Tuesday's election.

In an advertisement opposing the ban, a picture of four girls dressed in the pattern of the American flag accompany the headline: "Do we look like criminals?"

On the other side, one ban supporter's Web site links to graphic pictures of bloodied limbs and faces belonging to fireworks victims.

Arguably the most contentious of the three Lakewood measures on Tuesday's ballot, Measure D aims to outlaw the sale and use of all fireworks, including Safe and Sane fireworks.

Safe and Sanes, which are sanctioned by the state fire marshal and do not explode or leave the ground, are also sold as fundraisers by more than two dozen Lakewood nonprofit organizations.

For many of these groups, the thousands of dollars garnered from fireworks sales fund programs and services and provide college scholarships. For youth sports groups, it keeps registration fees low.

"The sale of these approved fireworks by nonprofit organizations in Lakewood benefits so many community activities that residents of Lakewood and other areas enjoy," Fran Itkoff wrote to the Press-Telegram. "The one unfortunate incident in Lakewood should not jeopardize all the good that is gained in Lakewood by the sale of legal fireworks."

That incident - a March 5 house explosion involving illegal fireworks on Dunrobin Avenue - rekindled the perennial issue citywide and led city officials to place Measure D on the ballot.

Currently, the city allows only nonprofit groups to sell Safe and Sanes from July 1 to July 4. Residents can only ignite them on July 4.

Ban supporters say Measure D would cut down on noise and pollution, help authorities find illegal fireworks offenders and prevent the illegal use of Safe and Sanes.

Steven H., head of Lakewood Accountability Action Group, said there are other fundraising alternatives, including company sponsorship.

"These clubs are addicted to fireworks money. They won't give it up voluntarily," he said. "If this were an argument about clubs selling cigarettes to raise money, there wouldn't be this argument."

John Kelly, vice president of TNT Fireworks, said the measure is unfair to residents who safely celebrate Independence Day with state-approved fireworks.

"It's a tradition that's been in Lakewood for decades," he said. "Los Angeles County Fire statistics support that, in the last five years, there have been no injuries or accidents as a result of Safe and Sane fireworks."

Kelly said most of the problems come from illegal fireworks purchased outside of California or explosive material mixed by amateurs.

"This action is really a spin-off of the Dunrobin event, which in my opinion had absolutely nothing to do with the product that nonprofit organizations and myself sell each Fourth of July," he said.

LAAG said the city should impose a tax for additional law enforcement if Measure D fails at the polls.

"Lakewood should turn around and say, `Look, it's not fair to the residents of this city to tax them for increased police protection because of your fireworks that you insist on selling to raise your money,"' he said. "Because I'm not going to be spending $100,000 of taxpayer money to combat this problem every year."

Karen Robes can be reached at or (562) 499-1303.

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