Fireworks have become more scourge than celebration in Long Beach neighborhoods

Every year, throughout much of the summer, the loud—frightening and deafening in many cases—explosions of fireworks can be heard in every neighborhood in Long Beach, rattling windows, causing scared and sleepless nights, giving PTSD victims flashbacks, and making pets shake and cower in fear over whatever invisible calamity they’re imagining.

The noise, which in older times, was reserved for celebrations on July 4 and New Year’s Eve, has broadened its schedule in Long Beach and now commences around Memorial Day and increases until its July 4 crescendo before tailing off for another week or so until relative peace returns until the days leading up to the new year.

Lately, fireworks racket has become a problem in many neighborhoods, with complaints dominating local Nextdoor neighborhood sites (“was that a gun or fireworks?”) and has spawned a Facebook page, Long Beach Against Illegal Fireworks.

“I feel like we live in a war zone,” said one of the group’s founding members Elizabeth Upegui O’Ryan, of North Wrigley. “My sister lives in Newbury Park, my parents live in Hawthorne, and they don’t have this problem at all. My cousin lives in Lomita and she was concerned about me when the protests were going on and I asked her how things were in Lomita, and she said that it was dead. Quiet. If other cities can keep the noise down, I don’t see why Long Beach can’t.”

Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia addressed that very question at a media briefing Wednesday, saying he knows the nightly explosions are a nuisance but that they are very hard to stop.

“It’s very hard to catch folks doing fireworks as they happen,” he said, adding that by the time police or fire arrive at the scene, the offending parties are gone.

Every year, the city of Long Beach wages a strong awareness campaign about the fact that fireworks are illegal in Long Beach, so you can’t blame the fact that people are setting off all manner of high-powered fireworks on the lack of signage. It’s like putting a sign in front of a bank declaring the fact that bank robbery is illegal. Robbers gonna rob.

“They know it’s wrong,” said O’Ryan, “but they just do it.”

She said the Facebook group reports loud noises pretty much everywhere, but a lot are from South Wrigley, Willmore, West Long Beach and North Long Beach.

While fireworks have long been a problem in Long Beach, it’s unclear if things are getting worse, but no one is saying they’re getting better.

“It starts earlier and goes later,” said Long Beach City Councilman Rex Richardson, whose district is in North Long Beach. He said, at least in current weeks, the police have been too overwhelmed with other issues than to fret over firework violations.

“With COVID and the protests, do we want our police to be spending time investigating people not wearing face masks or breaking into buildings or citing people for fireworks?”

Richardson puts a high premium on social pressure. “When I had a newborn, I went around my block just asking people to, if they’re gonna do fireworks, do them in their backyards or go someplace else,” he said. “And they did. If you talk to your neighbors, it’ll go a long way.”

Enforcement has been problematic. Last year, Long Beach Police issued just 66 citations between Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, with 36 issued on July 4 alone. That comes out to less than 1 per day for the 40 or so days between the 2 holidays.

Members of the anti-fireworks Facebook page say their complaints have been met with little more than form letters from public officials. A letter from Mayor  Garcia’s office to one group member reads, in part, “The City takes the job of enforcing the Long Beach Fireworks Ordinance seriously. Last year nearly 10,000 pounds of fireworks were recovered by Long Beach Fire Department investigators and the Long Beach Police Department during peak firework season, and PD and Fire are out enforcing this year as well. We will continue to encourage residents to Celebrate Safely throughout the year and remind residents that fireworks are illegal in Long Beach.”

O’Ryan posted on the Facebook page a letter from Oxnard Mayor Tim Flynn to his city’s residents that she finds much more helpful and perhaps indicative of what Long Beach should be doing:

“Special Fireworks Enforcement Action. Starting this evening, there will be bike patrols in areas known for illegal fireworks use. Drones will also be used to better identify the location of fireworks blasts. You can help the Police Department by providing an address and/or exact location of the blasts.

This is also a Call to Action by Neighborhood Watch Patrols. You are the eyes and ears of the Police Department. Your efforts help those who protect the health and safety of Oxnard residents.”

O’Ryan said she is sending a copy of that letter to Mayor Garcia.

“I know we live in a large city,” she said. “But there are other large cities that are doing a better job. I am drugging my poor dog every single day to keep her calmed down, and I’m afraid she’s gonna have a heart attack,” she said. “I worry about veterans and homeless people with PTSD, and every night I hear fireworks going off to the north of me and to the west of me. It’s terrible. Something has to be done.”

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Tim Grobaty is a columnist and opinions editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his newspaper career at the Press-Telegram in 1976 as a copy boy and moved on to feature writer, music critic, TV critic, copy editor and daily columnist. He’s the author of several books, including I’m Dyin’ Here, and he lives in Long Beach.
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