LB Neighborhoods Report Continuing Detonation Of Disruptive Explosives; City Prosecutor Has Filed Criminal Charges In Fraction Of Complaints Received; No Cases Adjudicated Or Fines Collected To Date...And No indication City Mgm't Is Pursuing Administrative Enforcement (Hefty Fines Without Court Proceedings Used in Lakewood)
|(Aug. 15, 2020, 5:35 a.m.) -- The reports on the Long Beach Against Illegal Fireworks Facebook page speak for themselves. A few recent examples:
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City Prosecutor Doug Haubert, who's a very good city prosecutor, has tried to put a happy face on poor results thus far. His fourth update (visible on his office's webpage) indicates that since June 22, his office's online Fireworks Complaint Portal has received 545 complaints, 2 of which have resulted in (misdemeanor) criminal charges filed in court (0.36%). Neither of those cases, or any other recent LB fireworks cases have been adjudicated (much less won by the City) and no fines have resulted to date.
City Prosecutor Haubert says that as of 1:00 pm August 14, 2020, LBPD had sent the City Prosecutorís Office 62 cases related to the sale, possession or discharge of illegal fireworks. Along with the 2 cases generated by the Public Portal (noted above), 64 fireworks-related cases "have been reviewed and filed in court, or are in process of being reviewed." But agaon: no results to date.
City Prosecutor Haubert's office has also sent 260 letters to owners or tenants of property where illegal fireworks are allegedly discharged, reciting that it's a public nuisance that under CA Penal Code 373a an result in up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine...but with no indication such charges have been filed in those cases or adjudicated in the City's favor.
He also states:"Due to significant loss of revenue by the City resulting from COVID-19, most city departments are being cut. The City Prosecutorís Office will lose approximately 12% of its budget, which will impact all services, including, proactive firework enforcement."
But exactly why should LB residents support spending scarce resources to pursue the difficult to prove ("beyond a reasonable doubt") misdemeanor criminal cases when it would be arguably smarter to do what cities like neighborhood Lakewood do: use administrative enforcement.
As LBREPORT.com reported in detail on July 19, 2020, the City of Lakewood issues civil (not criminal) citations that impose hefty civil fines (which Lakewood's City Council increased in 2018 to sums that can exceed criminal misdemeanors.) The civil citations don't require criminal court trials, judges, prosecutors or proof beyond a reasonable doubt. The person cited can pay the fine or contest the citation in a civil (non court) hearing (in which the City has an easier to meet standard of proof than a criminal trial.) If the hearing officer finds for the City, the cited person can pay the fine or appeal in court, and unless a court overturns the hearing's findings, the cited person either pays the fine or the city can apply various unpleasant civil proceedings to collect the fine (and under Lakewood's rules failure to abate a cited condition also becomes a separately enforceable misdemeanor.)
The City of Long Beach doesn't use administrative enforcement because LB's City Council hasn't seriously pursued it. On July 24, 2018, (after another year of "warzone" level fireworks), Councilwoman Suzie Price, joined by Councilmembers Pearce, Supernaw and Austin, agendized an item requesting a city management "report on [the] feasibility of implementing expanded fireworks enforcement/administrative remedies." On March 15, 2019, city management sent a to the Mayor and City Council recommending against using administrative enforcement in Long Beach. Management's memo (which can be viewed here didn't provide details of Lakewood's use of administrative enforcement. Instead it argued that LB's costs would include $35,000 to deploy LBPD officers and LBFD arson investigators plus $40,000 to purchase two special law enforcement drones. It estimated long-term costs would include another Deputy City Attorney position ($210,000) plus a minimum of 300 hours of administrative code enforcement work ($19,500, to review video evidence and process administrative appeals, plus a hearing officer on appeals at $150 per case. And management said using city staff represented by employee unions would require meet-and-confer proceedings under the Meyers-Milias Brown Act.
Management's memo concluded: "Due to the legal and safety concerns involved, coupled with anticipated large costs, it is not recommended that the City implement an administrative citation process. Instead, it is recommended that the city managerís office explore the feasibility with the City Prosecutorís office of implementing a system or process of where the public may report the illegal use of fireworks."
No Long Beach Council incumbents challenged city managementís reasoning. None publicly asked how and why other cities (including Lakewood) manage do what LB city management argues the City of LB shouldn't do.
But on June 23, 2020, with explosives shaking neighborhoods across the city, two LB Council incumbents facing re-election in November 2020, Al Austin and Dee Andrews, joined by Councilmembers Zendejas and Richardson, in agendizing an item calling for a "Illegal Explosives and Fireworks Action Plan." It directed city management to pursue seven fireworks-related actions. One of the seven actions was: "Request City Attorney and City Manager to report back to the City Council on the feasibility of including an administrative citation process for illegal fireworks use, to allow for additional enforcement capability in Long Beach."
Nearly two months later, LB neighborhoods continue to be shaken by ground based explosives and mortar-fired rockets. There's no public indication that city staff is any less hostile to administrative enforcement in LB. LB residents are, for now, left to rely on misdemeanor criminal prosecution pursued by the City Prosecutor's office with the results indicated above.
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