Los Angeles officials holding fireworks buyback program, no questions asked

Los Angeles will host its first fireworks buyback program Wednesday, modeled after its gun buyback program, in an effort to reduce illegal fireworks during the Fourth of July weekend, particularly in the northeast San Fernando Valley.

People can anonymously surrender their fireworks from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday at the Brand Park parking lot, located at 15121 Brand Blvd. in Mission Hills.

Through sponsorship from the Los Angeles Dodgers, Food 4 Less, Target and NBC Universal, the city will compensate participants with tickets and gifts, Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore said. The value will be determined on site, and people are asked to transport the fireworks in the trunk of their vehicle.

Moore told the city's police commission Tuesday that with most major fireworks shows canceled last year due to COVID-19, the agency saw a 72% increase in calls for illegal fireworks, reaching about 6,000.

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"Each of those calls for service represented individuals that allegedly were in possession and using fireworks which are entirely completely illegal in the city of Los Angeles. Our men and women have seized more than four tons of firework material during that period of time," he said.

The pilot fireworks buyback program will focus on the San Fernando Valley, as 45% of last year's service calls were for that area, Moore said.

"The residents of the Northeast San Fernando Valley have endured multiple wildfires in recent years, resulting in mass evacuations. The use of illegal fireworks poses a real threat of another major fire in our communities," Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez said.

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"I thank members of our community for their collaboration and support to develop a creative solution to curb the use of illegal fireworks beyond enforcement efforts alone."

On May 5, the City Council approved Rodriguez's motion to pursue new strategies to curtail illegal fireworks, including a buyback program and reward program for people who report major suppliers of fireworks.

Along with scaring pets and creating fire risk, the use of legal and illegal fireworks in Southern California last July created the worst air quality in the region in a decade, according to the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

Concentrations of PM2.5 were 70% higher than previous years between 7 p.m. on the Fourth of July and 7 a.m. the next day in the South Coast Air Basin, which includes Orange County and parts of Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, according to the AQMD.

"During the course of this week, we're also actively engaged in identifying top locations that historically members of our community have complained of illicit fireworks," Moore said. "We know that there are certain individuals that seemingly each year go about gathering fireworks and using on the streets or yards or others.

"They pose significant dangers to themselves, risk of injuries, death, as well as fire damage or property damage to their surrounding community. And of course, we live in a very dry, arid community and our hills and so forth are very much subject to wildland fires that can be sparked by such a firework."

Moore said the department is also targeting retailers and manufacturers who are selling fireworks online. On June 22, City Attorney Mike Feuer announced that his office's Consumer Protection Unit sent cease-and-desist letters to major online platforms that were hosting fireworks advertisements in Los Angeles.

RELATED: City attorney cracking down on illegal firework sales in Los Angeles ahead of July 4th

The platforms -- which included Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, OfferUp and 5Miles -- agreed to remove the advertisements targeting customers in Los Angeles, Feuer's office said. The letters informed the corporations that the platforms hosted fireworks-for-sale offers in Los Angeles, in violation of municipal and state law.

Los Angeles Municipal Code section 57.5608.1.1 says it is unlawful and a misdemeanor to use, sell, possess or discharge any fireworks in the city. Some of the corporations had their own policies prohibiting the sale of fireworks.

On Tuesday, the City Council approved a motion introduced by Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas to direct the fire and police departments to report back on setting up a mobile app to track and respond to fireworks complaints and issue automatic violations, similar to a program set up in San Bernardino County.

"The bottom line has to be safety," Ridley-Thomas said in a statement after the vote. "The use of illegal fireworks poses a threat to Angelenos. We must get creative, and we must make it easy to identify illegal fireworks use and establish sufficient repercussions to curb this activity. Too many of our neighbors are literally playing with fire, and the results can be lethal."

Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Ralph Terrazas said the department "is supportive of all programs which can significantly reduce the risk of injury ... from the use of illegal fireworks."