Council to consider stiffer fines, other measures to rein in illegal fireworks

With fireworks continuing to rattle Long Beach neighborhoods at seemingly all hours of the day, the City Council will consider measures that could raise fines and create more ways for residents to report firework activity in the city.

All fireworks, including the safe-and-sane variety, are illegal in Long Beach but they continue to be an annual quality of life issue for residents who report explosions waking them at night, startling those with PTSD, or sending their pets into fits of tremors and panting.

Residents seeking relief from fireworks have formed a Facebook group with nearly 1,500 members and have mobilized against offenders and elected officials.

The item was introduced over the weekend by Councilman Al Austin, who represents an area of North Long Beach that has had numerous complaints in the past few months. Austin was joined in support by councilmembers Rex Richardson, Dee Andrews and Mary Zendejas, all of whom represent districts hit hard by fireworks annually.

Austin’s item calls for a number of things, including exploring increasing the city’s baseline fine of $1,000, tying fines to property owners or renters—the person who “has possession” of the property—rather than the person who is lighting the fireworks, and creating additional opportunities for residents to report fireworks.

Austin held an online town hall last week with the city prosecutor and a representative from the Long Beach Police Department in which residents voiced concerns over rampant fireworks use in the neighborhood and possible ways to rein it in.

“Like you, I hear the daily intrusions of explosions and fireworks in our neighborhoods, and we are working to enhance the tools we have to curtail this illegal activity,” Austin said in a Facebook post.

Currently, Long Beach law requires police officers to physically see fireworks being set off in order to issue a citation, however, Austin’s request for a new ordinance could tie the fine to the person who owns the property connected to the fireworks use rather than the person actually lighting.

City Prosecutor Doug Haubert said during the online town hall last week that his office was accepting video evidence of fireworks use in complaints that his office is handling the LBPD has launched a fireworks task force but the daily reports of explosions in neighborhoods have continued to pile up in complaints posted to social media.

Despite the widespread usage of fireworks in the city the LBPD’s actions against violators have been sparse. Last year the department issued just 36 citations during the 2019 July 4th holiday.

The item also calls for the city to look into the possibility of raising the fine for those caught lighting fireworks. While Long Beach’s fine is $1,000 per violation, other area cities like Lakewood have added other administrative costs that have raised their violation fines to $2,000.

Last year Long Beach city staff was asked to look into similar measures to increase the city’s ability to enforce its current ban on fireworks but it was determined that measures that other cities used, like using drones to monitor ignition points, were too expensive.

Other things deemed too expensive in that March 2019 report to the City Council also included the types of administrative fines and the online reporting portal that Austin has laid out in his request to council this week. Last year the city opted to go forward with an enhanced public relations campaign to encourage residents to “Celebrate Safely.”

City officials are currently grappling with an unexpected fiscal hole brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. The city is projecting a shortfall of up to $41 million and other projected shortfalls in the coming years.

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