City is taking a crack at getting tougher on fireworks violators

Lighting off fireworks in Long Beach could soon come with a greater chance of getting caught and fined after the City Council voted Tuesday to begin the process of bolstering the city’s response to fireworks violations in the future.

The city has a ban on fireworks, including the safe and sane variety, but their noise has been a perennial issue in the city leading up to and after the July 4th holiday. Council members unanimously supported the requests brought by Councilman Al Austin to target fireworks offenders in the city.

Austin’s requests included examining raising of the fine for using fireworks in the city—currently up to $1,000, a sum set by the state—and how the city could use technology to broaden enforcement efforts as well as additional administrative penalties that could fine property owners who allow fireworks use on their premises.

An amendment to the item from Councilman Rex Richardson proposed creating a “fireworks safe zone” for veterans with post traumatic stress disorder.

Austin noted that, given the pandemic and the civil unrest over the past few months, it’s an odd time to be doubling down on enforcement, but he said fireworks have become a real quality of life issue for the entire city. The frustration has given birth to a Facebook group with over 1,500 members who have pressured elected officials and law enforcement to do more.

“We do live in a society made up of laws and this is about being a good neighbor; this is about respecting your neighbor, the community and understanding that these aren’t safe and sane fireworks we’re talking about,” Austin said.

Most of his requests won’t have to wait very long to become practice.

On Monday, City Prosecutor Doug Haubert announced the creation of an online fireworks complaint portal where residents can  lodge complaints with his office directly, even providing video of photographic evidence of the offenses. The city also has created a complaint portal through its GoLongBeach app.

Haubert said he has started to pursue fireworks as a nuisance issue, which allows him to notify and penalize property owners rather than the person lighting the fireworks. This could be pivotal for discouraging the use because the city’s current ordinance requires law enforcement to witness the offense in real time.

The frustration was unanimous across the council with members sharing stories of how the nightly explosions have rattled their homes and disturbed young children, pets and awakened them from sleep.

“This is an issue that appears to be a lot worse,” Councilwoman Suzie Price said. “It’s out of control.”

The base fine for being cited for fireworks use in the city can be as much as $1,000 but could escalate to nearly $4,000 when accounting for court and other administrative fees. The city can’t raise the base amount because it’s set by state law.

There was a brief conversation over other measures the city could take like adding on mandatory community service to offenders’ punishment, but it ultimately wasn’t adopted by the council’s vote.

“Let’s find something that’s more important to you than money if you’re obviously willing to light your money on fire,” said Councilwoman Stacy Mungo who lobbied for an administrative penalty of community service to be added to potential punishments.

Fireworks usage has become a widespread issue not just locally but nationwide. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday that New York would be cracking down on illegal fireworks use and sales in the city.

His announcement came one day after fed up New Yorkers drove by his residence late Monday night and honked their horns in protest.

Long Beach is experiencing a significant increase in calls for service this year, with fireworks-related calls up 25% over the same period last year according to city officials.

While it has been been historically difficult for the police to cite members of public for using fireworks in the city, LBPD Chief Robert Luna said his officers have already issued several citations this year and would continue to do so.

“We don’t want to give citations even though we’ve given out several dozen already,” Luna said. “We don’t want to give out any more, but we want you to stop doing this.”

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.
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