Fireworks penalties may costs thousands of dollars more this year—and target property owners

Getting caught lighting off fireworks in Long Beach could be a lot more expensive if the City Council adopts an amendment Tuesday that would make violators responsible for the cost of city employees responding to calls.

The proposal would also expand who could be cited for illegal fireworks. If adopted as written, it would add “host liability” language that would hold property owners, tenants, landlords or property managers responsible if someone on their property is violating the city’s fireworks ordinance. All fireworks are illegal in Long Beach.

The City Council is expected to approve the ordinance at its June 8 meeting. Because it’s an emergency ordinance, it would go into effect immediately after Mayor Robert Garcia signs it—rather than the typical 30-day waiting period—making the new penalties enforceable before July 4.

Deputy City Attorney Art Sanchez said that the ordinance would be similar to the city prosecutor’s illegal fireworks reporting portal that allows people to use video and photo evidence to file a complaint with the legal action being aimed at the property owner, similar to how Long Beach targets nuisance properties.

Sanchez said enforcement would apply to adjacent city rights-of-way like streets, sidewalks and would allow a location to be cited if witnesses see the persons lighting off fireworks run into it to hide.

“It widens the scope of who can be cited,” Sanchez said. “The whole hope is that we want to curtail this kind of activity.”

The base fine of the administrative citations remains unchanged at $1,000, which is set by state law, but Sanchez said that violators could also be held liable for the cost of first responders showing up to a call.

That could include salaries, benefits, administrative costs and use of city equipment tied to any property damage and resulting investigations. The resulting fines could be several thousand dollars, but the costs would be assessed on a case-by-case basis, Sanchez said.

An additional $250 disposal fee could be charged if additional fireworks are confiscated.

“It didn’t increase the fine amount but it does increase the penally depending on all of these other charges, and hopefully that will get people’s attention,” Sanchez said.

The change to the city’s ordinance came at the request of the City Council who last year sought to increase the city’s fines and take other measures that could add teeth to the city’s fireworks ban.

“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,” said Councilman Al Austin, who introduced the item in June 2020.

The city has tried a number of approaches to reduce illegal fireworks activity in recent years, exploring the use of drones to monitor activity and producing public service announcements to raise awareness of existing laws.

This week it approved a program that will give free block party permits for those who pledge to celebrate the holiday without fireworks. 

Last year the city issued just 13 citations while receiving 779 calls for fireworks during a 24-hour period on July 4.

The city is aiming to expand that this year by widening who can be ticketed, but Sanchez said that staffing will still be an issue because of the sheer volume of calls the city will likely receive over the holiday.

Administering the citations will be a joint effort between the city prosecutor’s office and police officers, who will submit police reports about complaints, with the citations likely coming from the city attorney’s office.

Because they’re administrative citations, there’s already a built-in appeal process. Sanchez said he expects there to be challenges to citations issued this Fourth of July because of how new the law is.

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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.