Roman candle

A man shoots a Roman candle-style firework in July 2019 in Long Beach. Recreational fireworks might be somewhat curtailed in future years, depending on what Long Beach and other local jurisdictions decide.

LONG BEACH — With the results from a city-sanctioned survey in hand, Long Beach officials are inching closer to implementing new — but not stiff — fireworks restrictions in the city.

At a Sept. 7 workshop, a majority of city councilors signaled their support for city staff to move ahead with drafting preliminary language to update the city’s fireworks ordinance. The changes recommended by Mayor Jerry Phillips and key city officials, and currently favored by the council, would cut the number of days fireworks can be sold in city limits from eight to five days, and cut the number of days fireworks can be discharged within the city from eight to either four or five days.

Long Beach officials are the first among the local jurisdictions in Pacific County, including the county itself, to put their names on specific newly proposed regulations. While the county drafted new language for its fireworks ordinance last month, it was mostly for the purpose of kickstarting public hearings and discussion on the issue.

Under the proposed language, the last day fireworks could be sold in the city would be July 3, and the last day fireworks could be discharged is July 4 — rather than July 5 that the city currently allows for both the sale and use.

There was some disagreement among councilors about whether to restrict the number of days fireworks can be sold and used to four or five days. Councilors Del Murry and Natalie Hanson supported four days, Holli Kemmer and Tina McGuire supported five days, and Sue Svendsen was leaning toward four days, but wanted to study the survey results further before making a commitment.

“People need to take into consideration that this is real business, real lives, real people involved, and those of us that were raised here who had parents who were business people — and some of us who have been business people — are tired of being accused of making it all about the money,” Kemmer said. “But these are real people’s lives we’re talking about, and reducing the Fourth of July is going to have a real-world impact on these people. This is something that needs to be taken into serious consideration.”

Murry responded by saying that no one’s trying to cancel the Fourth of July holiday. “We’re trying to rein it in a little bit, because there are citizens in this town that are sick and tired of just the chaos that goes on for over a week. And a lot of these people are your customers that support your business year-round; the pharmacy, Marsh’s, all of the stores. These are people that are citizens [of Long Beach], and we’ve got to listen to them, too.”

Survey results

The move to cut back the number of days fireworks can be sold or used in Long Beach around the Fourth of July holiday came following the results of the city’s fireworks survey that was sent to ratepayers along with their monthly water bill in August. Of the 1,316 surveys sent out, 277 — or 21% — were returned.

Of the surveys that were returned, 65% said they wanted to limit the days that fireworks could be sold or discharged, but just 28% of respondents said they wanted to ban fireworks in the city.

The survey gave respondents the option of choosing how many days they would like the sale and use of fireworks to be allowed in Long Beach, from zero to eight days — the maximum allowed under state law. The median response for limiting the sale of fireworks was five days, and the median response for limiting the use of fireworks was four days.

Among those who responded, 47% said they or their family participate in fireworks celebrations, 36% said fireworks use on the beach makes them feel unsafe, and 59% said fireworks use in their neighborhood makes them feel unsafe.

Other local jurisdictions are also looking or are in the process of conducting a survey in a similar fashion as Long Beach. The Pacific County Board of Commissioners are hosting a countywide workshop with local officials next week, and another public hearing on Sept. 28.

Other actions

The city is also looking at other solutions besides restricting when fireworks can be sold or discharged, including language that would allow for an emergency fireworks ban.

The proposed language of an emergency ban, which had the support of the councilors, would allow for a ban on fireworks to be declared during emergency conditions, whether it be because of a fire, drought, high tide or any other emergency situation. The mayor, fire chief and police chief would meet and make a recommendation to the city council, with the final decision belonging to councilors.

Another proposed change is to cut the maximum number of fireworks vendors the city can permit for the fireworks sales period from four to two vendors. Councilors were generally in favor of the change, but wanted the new language to ensure that the process for determining which vendors receive permits is fair and transparent.

Councilors also supported language that would beef up the fines for illegal fireworks that are lit off within the city, to $500 for first offenses and $1,000 for second offenses.

Svendsen asked how many fines have been dished out under the current ordinance. Phillips said “almost virtually none, because they have to be committed in the presence of a police officer.” Nonetheless, Svendsen was hopeful that the larger fine amounts would get people’s attention and deter them from bringing illegal fireworks to the city.

Increasing public awareness is also a big part of the city’s Fourth of July strategy. Proposed ways to increase awareness around fireworks by city officials include:

  • Having fire officials and volunteers at the beach approaches handing out flyers with information related to fireworks and materials that are illegal to burn on the beach;
  • Starting a fundraising campaign for the city to purchase beach cleaning vehicles or equipment for post-July 4 cleanup efforts;
  • Working with Washington State Parks for a better barricade on the no-driving section from the Bolstad to Seaview beach approach;
  • Obtaining more readerboards, wooden signs and banners to spread the message around fireworks safety and rules, and keeping the beaches clean;
  • Maintaining a better social media and online marketing presence among the city, Long Beach Merchants Association and Long Beach Peninsula Visitors Bureau.

“I just think that … increasing awareness or marketing is a big thing that the county and other cities are not looking at. They’re just looking at the meat of the Fourth of July,” Phillips said.

There was also discussion about whether to resume the city-sanctioned fireworks shows that have not been held for the past two years. A fireworks show will be held next year for Long Beach’s 100-year anniversary, not for the Fourth of July.

In the past, the shows themself have cost about $20,000 annually to put on, with another $18,000 estimated annually in labor and other costs by city employees. Councilors agreed to have city officials approach the Long Beach Merchants Association about whether they’d be interested in supporting part of the cost and labor needed to put on the public show.

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