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Fireworks fizzle? Coastal Commission says Fourth of July show should be moved from La Jolla Cove

Fireworks explode
Fireworks explode over La Jolla Cove during a past Fourth of July celebration.
(San Diego Union-Tribune)

Citing the potential disturbance of sea lions at Point La Jolla and a failure of organizers to secure the needed permits, the California Coastal Commission said this week that a planned Fourth of July fireworks display should be moved from La Jolla Cove.

Dave Rolland, a spokesperson for San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, confirmed that the show would not be permitted to go on as planned, with fireworks launched from near the cove.

A Coastal Commission notice issued to Deborah Marengo, director of the La Jolla Community Fireworks Foundation, says that “due to the ongoing harassment of sea lions at Point La Jolla, the current presence of pupping activity and the proposed location of the fireworks show immediately adjacent to them, commission staff has been meeting with the city and in contact with other resource agencies to identify measures to avoid further harassment.”

It was also determined that event organizers had not obtained permits for the show, according to the notice.

The commission told the city of San Diego that “the fireworks show should be relocated to an alternative site … further away from Point La Jolla in order to avoid or minimize adverse impacts to the sea lions and their pups.”

Proposed new locations include Kellogg Park at La Jolla Shores, La Jolla High School or another school site, La Jolla Country Club, La Jolla Recreation Center, La Jolla Tennis Club, UC San Diego parking lots or a barge off the coast farther from the sea lions.

Marengo did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether an alternative location is being pursued.

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Marengo said in mid-June that the fireworks display would proceed as planned, despite a lawsuit attempting to block it. When asked whether the necessary permits had been approved and acquired, she said: “Everything has been approved. We are just finalizing some things right now. We pretty much have everything in order.”

But the Coastal Commission staff determined that the show needed a California Environmental Quality Act review, authorization from the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board and a coastal development permit, which calls for 60 days’ notice and a public hearing.

The staff also indicated that the show needed authorization from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act and that “no one has applied for such a permit for this action.”

NOAA said that if the fireworks can be moved or designed in such a way that harassment of wildlife is unlikely, authorization is not needed.

“City staff has made every attempt to find a safe, legally sound path to hold the fireworks display despite the short timeline,” Rolland said. “The city did not receive a permit application for the event until June 10, leaving insufficient time to process the necessary authorizations…. The city is willing to work with the applicants on alternative celebration ideas.

“While we know this is frustrating, the city must follow all applicable laws and regulations to safeguard residents and environmentally sensitive lands.”

He said any other locations would have to be “evaluated on their own merits.”

The lawsuit challenging the plan to have the show at La Jolla Cove was filed in May in San Diego County Superior Court by environmental attorney Bryan Pease on behalf of the Animal Protection and Rescue League.

Pease said at the time that “there are general issues with fireworks, but the area here is a sensitive marine habitat, so it is unacceptable.”

He contended the display would violate the Marine Mammal Protection Act, local noise ordinances and sections of the San Diego municipal code, and that it would would disturb other animals.

Pease said Wednesday that if the show is moved to La Jolla Shores or another nearby location, it could still have an effect on the sea lions.

The Animal Protection and Rescue League sought a temporary restraining order to prevent the fireworks display, but the court has not yet taken action.


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