Fireworks for New Year's? Wholesalers, nonprofits want more time to sell them

06/28/2012 12:00 AM

07/03/2012 5:21 PM

In California, Fourth of July is the one holiday that gets the fireworks pass – for one summer week, starting today, you can buy sparklers and fountains to celebrate Independence Day.

In a couple of years, you may be able to hoist a champagne glass as your fireworks light up the winter sky to toast the new year.

A bill that has already passed the state Senate – unanimously – would double the weeks fireworks can be sold, from June 28 to July 4 and from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1.

A second week of sales would not only give New Year's celebrants another way to party, but also would ignite sales for wholesalers such as TNT Fireworks, the sponsor of the bill.

The companies have some key supporters in their corner – the nonprofits that set up those plywood roadside stands that dot the Sacramento area this time of year.

"The fact that we're cutting back on all the programs, safety net programs and what not, a lot of the money that nonprofits used to get, they don't get anymore," said Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, who is carrying the measure. "The sale of fireworks on a local level helps create a lot of revenue."

Senate Bill 1468 would add that second week for just two years, 2014 and 2015. It's pending in the Assembly.

Under current law, about 290 California communities allow nonprofit groups to sell fireworks, including churches, high school booster clubs and sports organizations.

Among them is the Rosemont Little League, whose treasurer Dennis Gallagher said fireworks sales make up 20 percent of the league's budget.

Adding more sales between Christmas and New Year's Day "would be an additional revenue stream that we would definitely pursue," he said.

Atkinson Youth Services, a group home that helps children with disabilities, works with abused children and helps find foster homes, is also interested in another sales opportunity.

It made $10,000 with fireworks sales last year at a stand that also offered raffles and face-painting, said public relations coordinator Jeanny Rapp.

"It provides the extras for our foster children and group homes," Rapp said. Those extras include field trips and Christmas gifts.

Her group would have more uses for some of the $25 million Calderon estimates nonprofits would raise around the New Year's holiday.

"We have children who come in without clothes, and this would help us stuff their backpacks," Rapp said.

Beyond the money, she said, the fireworks stand offers a chance for community outreach to recruit new foster parents.

Supporters of the bill note that an estimated 3,000 nonprofits sell fireworks now.

But while some community-based organizations benefit, fireworks sales aren't a sweeping answer to nonprofit financial support, said James M. Ferris, director of the Center on Philanthropy and Public Policy at the University of Southern California's Sol Price School of Public Policy.

He said there are 30,000 nonprofits in Los Angeles County alone.

"The majority of nonprofits get most of their money from the government, not individual donations," he said. "Until the government spends more, the nonprofits aren't going to do well."

Wholesalers such as TNT make a 2 percent to 5 percent profit from firework sales, said Dennis Revell, a TNT spokesperson. Depending on the number of cities that choose to allow the sale of fireworks for New Year's Eve, Revell said companies could see a 30 percent increase in profits.

TNT, through American Promotional Events Inc., has contributed money to multiple ballot measure campaigns to legalize fireworks or defeat bans.

Among its arguments: Expanding fireworks sales will make local communities safer.

Revell said California has the highest standards for "safe and sane" fireworks in the nation, and increasing their availability will decrease accidents by discouraging the use of less safe fireworks.

"Statistics have clearly demonstrated in the last 10 years as more cities have chosen to allow fireworks for the Fourth of July, the use of illegal fireworks and the problems associated with them have gone down," Revell said.

Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District Fire Marshal Ray Iverson echoed that argument at an Assembly committee hearing last week, telling lawmakers that the measure would increase safety by discouraging the use of illegal fireworks.

He added that December is a more favorable time for fireworks than July.

"The threat of fire is reduced, greatly reduced at that time of the year," he said.

Still, the bill has drawn opposition from those who say the expansion would increase danger and unfairly affect cities that do not allow the sales.

Not only are fireworks unsafe, said Orange County Fire Authority Battalion Chief Kris Concepcion, they would increase his authority's workload.

"Fireworks are inherently dangerous and as far as the amount of increased calls that would happen as a result of that, there's no funds for that," Concepcion said.

Nonprofits or other applicants are charged a percentage of gross sales intended to offset a community's costs, which include issuing permits, conducting inspections and fighting fireworks-related fires.

But that doesn't necessarily help nearby cities that don't allow the stands.

Burbank is one of them. Burbank Fire Marshal Frank Walbert said he did not think there would be increased staffing needs if the bill becomes law, but more community outreach efforts would be necessary.

"We're opposed because the more often that fireworks are sold, the more incidents there are," Walbert said. "People will go get fireworks somewhere else and bring them in. This will just increase the number of times this happens."

Calderon said fireworks are safer than other options for that time of year.

"People will hopefully rather buy fireworks than shoot guns up in the air," he said.


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