Property managers, landlords, tenants will now be liable for those who violate fireworks law

Violating Long Beach’s fireworks ban could come with a significantly higher penalty after the City Council approved an amendment Tuesday that allows the city to charge the cost of city employees responding to fireworks calls, as well as any damages, to those lighting off fireworks.

The vote does not change the city’s maximum fine, which is still $1,000, but it will allow the city attorney’s office to issue municipal citations and seek the cost of recovery for police, fire and other city personnel from those violating the law.

The cost of those services is yet to be determined, but a city official said last week it would likely vary based on the size of the response, any damage caused by fireworks and how long it takes to carry out the investigation.

The changes to the ordinance also adds a “host liability” section in the ordinance that could make it easier for the city to issue citations in the future because it will allow property owners, tenants, landlords, property managers and other individuals hosting fireworks events to be issued citations.

“If a property owner is in a better position to identify who these individuals are that are setting off the fireworks, then we will take that into consideration, depending on what the information is and how we can identify the individual,” said Deputy City Attorney Art Sanchez. “But as a whole, the way host liability works in this situation is its focus is on being able to enforce against individuals.”

The city’s previous policy required police officers to witness the fireworks being lit off, which made it difficult to issue citations. Last July 4, LBPD officers issued just 13 citations while the department received nearly 800 calls regarding fireworks.

But now citations can be issued to property owners if it can be proved that fireworks were lit off on their property or on adjacent property by persons being hosted at their homes.

There is a provision in the updated language that allows for a property owner to report fireworks activity on their property without being punished.

Council members were supportive of the item as the city has tried to reduce fireworks in the city for years. Some expressed concern that property owners could be penalized for actions of tenants, and that the exact amount of cost recovery has yet to be outlined.

Others said it was important to send a message through the ordinance. Councilman Al Austin likened the changes to the city’s firework ordinance to a law he proposed in 2014 aimed at adults serving alcohol to minors at private gatherings, which also used host liability as an enforcement tool.

“The message to take away from this is that moving forward if you choose to do illegal fireworks in our city you’re putting your own housing at risk, and I think that is a strong message to take away from this,” Austin said.

The ordinance update is the latest effort by the city to try and reduce the use of fireworks in the city. The council has funded public service announcements, looked into using drones to monitor and map fireworks hotspots and most recently said it would offer free block-party permits to help get more residents on the streets in hopes of reducing the issue this year.

An online reporting portal where residents can submit video and photo evidence was created by the city prosecutor’s office last year, which resulted in similar municipal citations being issued through that office. While the city intends to create its own reporting portal in the future officials said it would hold off until after July 4 and encourage residents to continue using the prosecutor’s portal.

The council will be asked to approve an updated fee schedule at its June 15 meeting where city staff is expected to give an update on additional response costs that could be charged to people violating the city’s fireworks ban.

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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.