City to look at stiffer fines, community service to curb illegal fireworks use

After another year of illegal fireworks and the corresponding complaints, city officials are moving to stiffen fines and penalties for those who violate the city’s ban.

The City Council asked for a report back Tuesday night on what the city can do in terms of tacking on community service or adding additional civil penalties to the $1,000 base fine for lighting off fireworks in the city. The request came after another year where Long Beach Police Department phone lines were inundated with calls from residents trying to report illegal fireworks.

In a memo to the council, Councilwoman Mary Zendejas said that the city’s dispatch center received nearly 800 fireworks-related calls. In a 45-minute span that started at 8:30 p.m. the night of July 4, about 450 calls came into the city’s 911 and non-emergency lines, about 10 calls per minute.

“I too was calling in and I know that it was crazy night but I don’t want us to go through that again,” Zendejas said. “Nobody in our city should have to go through that.”

A total of 13 people were cited for lighting off fireworks on July 4.

Zendejas’ experience was not unique to this year, or any other. Fireworks have been an ongoing topic of nuisance for the council.

Last month the council requested more information on how the city could crack down on the problem and the city’s prosecutor opened an online complaint portal to allow residents to submit video and other evidence to help prosecute offenders.

Still, paper shrapnel and used mortar cannons littered the gutters and medians of the city’s streets the morning of July 5.

“Every year on July the 4th I get a ton of emails from people saying they’ve lived here their whole life and this year was the worst,” said Councilwoman Suzie Price. “This year literally was worse because it started earlier, in terms of days before the 4th of July, but also it started earlier in the day and it went much longer into the night.”

Price argued that the council needed to ensure that whichever agency takes the lead on enforcement needs to be fully funded because if the city can’t enforce it’s own rules “nothing’s going to change.”

Councilwoman Stacy Mungo, who represents East Long Beach, said that community service could be a deterrent both as a penalty but also by physically taking away time from people so they can’t light off fireworks.

Mungo added that the current fine structure might not be a big enough deterrent.

“When you have a block party where all the neighbors had each agreed to pitch in $100 to pay for the fine, the fine is not enough,” Mungo said. “These are the anecdotal stories we’re hearing from neighbors.”

Some councilmembers expressed skepticism that raising the fine would have much of an impact, as those who are violating it are often lighting off hundreds if not thousands of dollars worth of illegal fireworks. Instead, they suggested other means of trying to reign in the city’s illegal fireworks problem.

“I’ve gone to the Queen Mary, Big Bang on the Bay, great experiences,” said Councilman Rex Richardson, who represents North Long Beach. “Let’s give the North Long Beach kids something to do so they could maybe save a little money and see a show that’s safe.”

While Long Beach’s fine is set at $1,000—a figure dictated by the state—it could add on additional penalties. Neighboring Lakewood has tacked on expenses like fire marshal disposal fees and other charges to up their fine to $2,000.

Last month City Prosecutor Doug Haubert said that with court fees and other charges assessed the city’s current fine could rise to $4,000. If people are caught using fireworks that are illegal statewide, those fines could be as much as $50,000 with a potential felony charge if the perpetrator has enough of those fireworks in their possession.

A report back on what the city’s options could include is expected back before the City Council in the next 90 days.

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Jason Ruiz has been covering City Hall for the Post for nearly a decade. A Long Beach resident, Ruiz graduated from Cal State Long Beach with a degree in journalism. He and his wife Kristina and, most importantly, their dog Mango, live in Long Beach. He is a particularly avid fan of the Dallas Cowboys and the UCLA Bruins, which is why he sometimes comes to work after the weekend in a grumpy mood.
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