Civically Speaking is a weekly newsletter on the latest local government news from the lens of the Long Beach Post’s City Hall reporter, who sits through so many city meetings for us.
Is it getting better?
When I saw the city manager’s memo from late June detailing how fireworks complaints appear to have tapered off since their peak in 2020, I was curious to see how that would translate this Fourth of July holiday.
I wasn’t curious enough to stick around and experience it firsthand. I have one of those dogs that people on social media gleefully make fun of for being scared of loud noises. So, my family has created a new tradition of shelling out a few thousand dollars every July to provide her with the peace that the desert provides during America’s birthday.
The fallout goes beyond animals shaking and panting uncontrollably. The loud booms wake up babies, can traumatize veterans, and if you’re lucky enough to live near people who set them off in the early morning hours, they can make waking up for work even more miserable.
It also makes air quality worse in a city that already has some of the worst air in the nation.
It didn’t take long to hear the stories of how loud it was in the city despite Long Beach being a jurisdiction where all fireworks are illegal, including those handheld sparklers that you can buy in Lakewood.
One of my neighbors stopped me on my morning walk with my dog Thursday to tell me just how bad it was. As I continued walking with the dog I could see debris from fireworks strewn across planters with burned-out mortar cannons (extra illegal) next to skyrockets and burn marks in the streets.
One neighbor even had their collection of spent fireworks collected in two big, orange Home Depot buckets in their front yard.
The proud display was indicative of the disregard many in the city have for Long Beach’s fireworks laws, including a move by the City Council in 2021 to increase penalties to as much as $20,000 for people violating the city’s ordinance.
The changes allow residents to provide picture or video evidence of people setting off fireworks in their neighborhoods to the Long Beach Police Department, city attorney or the city prosecutor who can use that information to cite people under a “host liability” law leading to thousands of dollars in fines for disposal fees and any property damage caused by fireworks.
That means the city can fine property owners who allow fireworks to be used at or near their homes, unless of course the property owner narcs on their friends or family who lit them off. To date, the city says it hasn’t issued one of those fines, which were added to the municipal code in 2021.
The police of course can issue citations if they see people lighting off fireworks, but that’s difficult to do, and what cop really wants to be captured on video being the Grinch who stole the Fourth of July?
But the law is the law, right?
Even in the instances when the city prosecutor has taken cases to court, most of them have been thrown out or handled through “judicial diversion.” That can vary by judge but can include some form of community service or even listening to a podcast about fireworks safety and writing a summary of what they learned. Seriously.
The city has yet to release data from how many citations it issued this year but it will probably be within the same range (about 15) that it says the police issue each year, something that most residents who stayed in town might say is woefully low.
So are complaints going down?
There were about 300 complaints logged through the city’s GoLongBeach app over the weekend, and some included addresses of homes that were setting off fireworks, the kind of information the city says it needs to be able to enforce its law.
Going through social media I found videos of people lighting off fireworks in broad daylight Downtown and accounts of others driving around and lighting them off in random intersections.
The anger was palpable. But what was also noticeable was a growing feeling that calling the police won’t amount to much, if they show up at all. If you’ve ever tried to call the non-emergency number during the Fourth of July you probably know it’s almost impossible to get through to a dispatcher.
Complaints may be trending down but it doesn’t appear it’s because the misery of pet owners, veterans and people with newborns is also dissipating. I’m not sure where you’ll be next Independence Day, but I’m already looking at Airbnb’s in the desert.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS WEEK:
The Long Beach City Council could be getting back into the business of trying to raise wages in the private sector this week. The council could vote on an analysis of hotel worker wages in the region and for the city attorney to prepare a ballot measure to increase the minimum wage for hotel workers in the city for the 2024 election. If you remember, the council approved a $25 minimum wage increase for health care workers in 2022 but it was upended by a referendum effort and voters will now decide its fate next year. Now it appears voters will also get to decide how much hotel workers in the city will make after the 2024 election.
PAY ATTENTION TO THIS NEXT WEEK:
Late last week the Long Beach Community College District Board of Trustees indicated it would move forward with a bond measure on the 2024 ballot. The body is looking for $990 million in revenue that will be derived by raising property taxes in the city so it can upgrade classrooms and other facilities and potentially build affordable student housing. The board opted not to place a much smaller bond measure on the 2022 ballot but its consultant said that passage of the bond looked promising for 2024. The issue polled better when “LBCC” was in the language rather than the district’s formal name and when people were told that the bonds would raise property taxes by “25 cents for every $1,000” rather than “$25 for every $100,000” of home value. There’s a lot that can happen between now and November 2024, but barring another economic downturn the board appears ready to ask voters to approve the bonds.