In Closed Session

Fireworks are illegal in Long Beach. Have been at least for the 25 years or so that I've been here.

That means people are not supposed to light any form of firework in the city limits. It takes a permit from the Fire Department to fire up so much as a sparkler — at least legally.

But go outside in most Long Beach neighborhoods pretty much any night between now and July 15, and you'll be sure to be treated with the sights — and more particularly the sounds — of fireworks exploding. On the Fourth of July, much of the city sounds like a war zone.

Despite increasingly strident warnings from the police and fire departments, and plenty of debate, report requesting and more from the City Council, the number and power of the fireworks being shot off appear to be increasing. This year, the council decided to try yard signs (these are politicians, remember) making it clear that fireworks are illegal and that the resident with the sign will be reporting any violations.

Only problem is, the fireworks culprits are not exactly the type to heed a neighbor's yard sign.

There are message boards all over the city pointing out that fireworks, even the ones marked safe and sane, are illegal in the city. That doesn't stop folks in Lakewood, Bellflower and surrounding cities from putting up fireworks stands (many run by nonprofits) right across the city border selling those aforementioned safe and sane sparklers and bottle rockets.

In fact, Eighth District Councilman Al Austin tried several years ago to legalize sale and use of those types of fireworks as a way to regulate the things. He essentially got booed down, and the idea got put back on the shelf.

But the real problem (don't tell the fire chief I said this) isn't the backyard sparklers and pinwheels. It's the mini-bombs brought back from Mexico, or the Indian reservations in Nevada and Arizona. That's where the war zone arsenal comes from.

Add the ever-ready excuse of, "my neighbor does it, so I can do it too," and it would seem impossible to stop the assault.

It's not for lack of trying. The police and fire departments both pledge to tougher enforcement again this year, and have already sent out the release that threatens a $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail for anyone caught. But there are only a relative handful of Fire Department safety officers to be out on patrol. It's difficult to believe our cops don't have more pressing matters than chasing after the sky rocket and M-80 culprits.

Enter our city prosecutor, Doug Haubert.

"My office is researching how we can enforce the city's fireworks ban on property owners who facilitate the explosion of fireworks. California's ‘aiding and abetting' law holds those who assist others in violating the law responsible to the same degree as the person who committed the crime. 

"In other words, the person who set off the fireworks can be subject to criminal penalties, and so can the homeowner or others who encourage or facilitate that behavior. This year, people can expect police and prosecutors to be even stricter on firework violations. I am also going to look at whether Long Beach can adopt additional laws to do more to hold property owners accountable when their guests explode illegal fireworks. 

"Too often, July 4th parties turn into dangerous scenes and innocent people get hurt. This is hardly the way to celebrate Independence Day."

Haubert has had some success holding parents responsible for their children's actions, particularly for truancy. The only drawback to going after property owners is that it still takes a police officer or fire inspector to prove that fireworks have indeed been lit at a particular location. I wonder, can neighbors testify? Would neighbors testify?

At any rate, if this has caused you to feel bad about that packet of firecrackers you snagged the last time you were on I-15 outside Las Vegas, you can dispose of them at all fire stations without penalty. And if you want a sign telling all your neighbors you might report them, you can get one at Fire Headquarters, 3205 Lakewood Blvd., or the Neighborhood Resource Center, 100 W. Broadway, Suite 550.

And be careful out there.

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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