Last year marked the first time in 25 years that residents could sell and discharge legal fireworks in Huntington Beach for the Fourth of July. But with the change came the issuance of more than a dozen citations, the confiscation of almost 200 pounds of illegal fireworks and one reported injury.
City ordinance has allowed local nonprofits to sell the legal pyrotechnic devices on a trial basis for two years, but that will come to an end July 5, and council members will have to decide the future of fireworks in Surf City.
"People who are bystanders can be injured. Children can be injured. Fires are started," said Mayor Connie Boardman, who has opposed lifting the ban. "For public safety reasons and because of the advice from our fire chief and police chief, I oppose the use of fireworks."
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Boardman and Councilman Joe Shaw voted against the ordinance passed in 2012, fearing an increase in illegal fireworks.
Mayor Pro Tem Matthew Harper said he believes the residents of Huntington Beach will step up and ask the council to continue the trial or even repeal the ban permanently.
"We should legalize it. It's time to make them lawful permanently again in Huntington Beach, just like they used to be," Harper said.
According to Fire Capt. Bob Culhane, public safety officials issued 29 citations for illegal fireworks last year versus 21 in 2011, when the ban on fireworks was still in place, he said.
The fine for first offenders is $500, according to the city website.
Though the difference in the number of citations handed out from one year to the next isn't vast, he said the amount of illegal fireworks confiscated was staggering.
Authorities collected 165 pounds of illegal fireworks last year while only 25 pounds were collected in 2011.
"It's much more difficult to enforce [the ordinance]," Culhane said. "Now people have fireworks and now you're trying to distinguish if it's 'safe and sane' or dangerous."
Dangerous fireworks include M-80s, bottle rockets and other explosives that shoot a projectile and explode. "Safe and sane" fireworks are similar to sparklers and fountains.
"You do tend to get more dangerous fireworks when we have the 'safe and sane.'" Culhane said.
Saying she was curious to see how the ordinance was working, Boardman rode with a fire battalion chief to the downtown Huntington Beach area and said she wasn't happy with what she saw.
She said she saw people illegally discharging fireworks in the street and on the beach.
City spokeswoman Laurie Frymire said
10 booths around the city will be selling "safe and sane" fireworks starting July 1. Discharging of the items, however, is permitted only from noon to 10 p.m. on the Fourth of July. She added that driveways are ideal locations for using them.
Culhane wasn't patrolling the streets last Fourth of July. Instead, he was in the office watching a live stream from a helicopter hovering over the city and was shocked by what he saw.
"The 'safe and sanes' were going off. No big deal. But then you have all the illegal stuff — mortars and mid-aerials — that were blowing off," he said. "When you look at that from a helicopter and see across the city, it's all over the place."
The mayor also wasn't pleased with the debris she saw on the beach the day after the festivities.
Boardman and Culhane both said they would like to see the ordinance expire July 5 and not be renewed.
Harper said he always looks forward to this time of the year and believes the state-approved "safe and sane" fireworks are safe enough for Huntington Beach residents.
"It's very exciting to be a part of the Fourth of July parade, to see the fireworks program or for citizens to use fireworks on their own," Harper said. "It's a really great time to live in Huntington Beach."