April 19, 2007

Lomita CA plans to extinguish fireworks this Fourth of July


Lomita plans to extinguish fireworks this Fourth of July
They already are illegal, and officials promise to get tougher. A new ordinance will make violations punishable by fines and jail.

By Nick Green

Last year Lomita Mayor Mark Waronek stood at a friend's house in Rolling Hills Estates on Independence Day looking down on the city.

Despite a ban on fireworks enacted in Lomita in 1986, the night sky above it was ablaze with cascading showers of sparks.

"I was amazed, it looked like Fallujah," Waronek said. "It's like a war zone. ... It was an eye-opening experience, it really was."

So eye-opening, in fact, that Monday, at the urging of Waronek, Lomita approved an aggressive ordinance that toughens the punishment for anyone using fireworks in the city. In the past sheriff's deputies have simply confiscated fireworks. Now violators will be slapped with a misdemeanor and face six months in jail and a fine of up to $500.

To enforce the tough ordinance, a Fireworks Eradication Team consisting of four sheriff's deputies and four plainclothes officers or volunteers will fan out across the city citing offenders and confiscating fireworks.

"We're serious -- there's a new sheriff in town," City Manager Tom Odom said. "If we catch you, we're going to prosecute you."

The tough new stance against fireworks marks a complete turnaround for the mayor, who last year urged the City Council to discuss lifting the ban so charitable groups could once more cash in on the sale of fireworks.

But that effort fizzled rapidly.

Odom noted in a report to the City Council on Monday that municipal employees receive a "barrage of complaints" every year over illegal fireworks.

"Animals go crazy, kids get hurt and it has just become a real problem -- it puts senior citizens on edge," Odom said. "Based on the complaints we get, there are more citizens against them than for them."

In the South Bay, only five cities -- Carson, Inglewood, Gardena, Hawthorne and Lawndale -- still allow so-called safe-and-sane fireworks.

Lomita's ordinance will be officially adopted in 30 days and become law 30 days after that, just in time for fireworks season.

The strict ordinance is essentially an admission that previous efforts to stop people setting off fireworks in the city have failed.

The city formerly attempted to educate residents on the dangers of fireworks by focusing on the fire danger created.

Last year the city spent just $1,069 on fireworks enforcement; this year that bill will rise to about $20,000.

Lomita plans an all-out public relations blitz to discourage fireworks.

Electric signs along roads, public service announcements on cable, warnings in utility bills and other measures will alert the public about the new ordinance.

Parks personnel will set sprinkler start times to 9 p.m. from July 1 through July 7.

And the Fireworks Eradication Team will prowl city streets from 8 p.m. to midnight around the holiday looking for people who dare to wave so much as a sparkler around.

"The main thing is enforcement," Waronek said. "I love fireworks, but you've got to do it in a safe-and-sane manner. I'll go to another city and enjoy the Fourth of July."


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