Free permits for block parties? It could become the city’s newest tool to try and reduce illegal fireworks use

A year after banning all block parties to combat the spread of COVID-19 Long Beach could make the permits to host them free as it tries to reduce the amount of illegal fireworks set off over the Fourth of July weekend.

Councilwoman Stacy Mungo Flanigan is proposing the city waive the $100 permit fees this year for block parties as a way to get more eyes on the streets, she said Wednesday.

“Part of it is that neighbors are reluctant to be the identifier on the complaint because it’s easy to identify they’re the ones that saw the issue,” Mungo Flanigan said. “In a block party type environment there would be more eyes on the street.”

If the motion passes permit fees for block parties could be waived but residents could be required to pay for special event staff or inspections, if necessary, as well as rental fees for city-approved barricades. Mungo Flanigan’s request would also require those block parties to pledge to be a fireworks-free zone. It’s being supported by council members Roberto Uranga, Suzie Price and Mary Zendejas.

Last year the city received 779 fireworks-related calls during the 24-hour period of July 4 and issued 13 fireworks citations. In 2019, it issued 36 citations during the holiday and received 765 calls for service.

Fireworks of all kinds are illegal in the city but they continue to be a persistent problem, especially during the pandemic when explosions have been heard nearly every month.

The city issued 59-fireworks citations in the weeks leading up to last year’s holiday, according to the city.

Mungo Flanigan said that fireworks have a number of negative impacts including potential property damage, injuries and stress and trauma for people and pets. Despite the announcement of shows like Big Bang on the Bay returning this year Mungo Flanigan said she thinks that people who do light illegal fireworks will do them regardless of city-sanctioned shows and she’s hopeful that the fireworks-free block parties can help reduce that.

“My goal is personal accountability,” she said.

The City Council has been trying to rein in illegal fireworks in the city for years. In June it voted to create a fireworks committee and in July the council approved a motion for city officials to explore increasing fines or even requiring community service for people violating the ban.

Last year City Prosecutor Doug Haubert announced the creation of an online portal where residents can report and upload photos or video evidence of fireworks use in the city.

Haubert’s office is using public nuisance laws to rein in fireworks use at rental properties, which carry the same fines as the city’s fireworks ban. They both have a base fine of $1,000 that can escalate to $4,000 with administrative fees.

Evidence submitted to the portal led to two criminal complaints being filed against individuals, but also 260 letters being sent to property owners warning of fines, according to an update on Haubert’s website in August.

Long Beach’s ban requires visual evidence that fireworks are being set off and the portal has allowed residents to document that activity and submit it without calling the police, which can be can be challenging once fireworks start going off and calls flood into regional police stations.

Fireworks continued to be an issue after the Fourth of July holiday with Long Beach Police Department detectives arresting a man who had 5,000 pounds of fireworks in December, just weeks before the LBPD announced it was stepping up enforcement for anticipated fireworks activity over the New Year’s Eve holiday.

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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.