Laguna Beach opts for drone show for Fourth of July celebration

"Fireworks" sparkle over the beach at La Jolla Shores courtesy of the Fourth of July drone show.
“Fireworks” sparkle over the beach at La Jolla Shores courtesy of the Fourth of July drone show. The Laguna Beach City Council has decided to host a drone show, instead of a fireworks display, on Independence Day.
(Courtesy of the city of Los Angeles)
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Laguna Beach will trade in its pyrotechnics for a high-tech option on Independence Day, as the City Council has decided to have a drone light show for the city’s Fourth of July celebration.

The coastal community has hosted a fireworks display since the early 1980s, but council members unanimously backed the drone show for a one-year trial, citing environmental responsibility.

“My problem is with the smoke and the pollution of the ocean and the noise for the ocean animals, as well,” Councilman George Weiss said at the April 23 meeting. “We shouldn’t be doing that. We don’t see [the fireworks] very well because it typically is no wind on Fourth of July, and that screen of smoke comes in front of the fireworks.”


Options presented to the council included a fireworks show from Monument Point that would have come at a cost of $42,000. The drone light show is expected to cost $75,000.

Laguna Beach plans to have 300 drones included in a 15-minute show which would be launched from Heisler Park. Assistant City Manager Jeremy Frimond said the drone show would occur over the water.

Drone shows typically utilize between 100 and 500 drones. The city’s environmental sustainability committee recommended the 300-drone show, said Frimond, who added the number represented a middle ground between image resolution and cost effectiveness.

“It’s always super smoky, and then what we live with is that smoke traveling through the canyon and sitting there for quite some time,” Judie Mancuso, who is serving as the acting chair of the committee, said of the traditional fireworks display during the public hearing.

Beyond the issue of air pollution, Mancuso spoke to the impact of fireworks on animals, saying, “For wildlife, it’s terrible, for nesting birds. It is the number one day of the year for dogs getting hit by cars and for going into shelters because of the noise. They get spooked.”

While visibility of a drone show may be dependent on the weather, including high wind speeds and low visibility, Councilman Mark Orgill appealed to the community’s creativity in saying he felt it appropriate for Laguna Beach to explore new territory.

“I like change, so I’d be all for the drones,” Orgill said. “I’d be OK with rolling the dice in the event that there’s bad weather. These things happen sometimes.”

Councilman Bob Whalen lamented the Fourth of July celebration plans not coming to the forefront sooner, expressing a hope that residents could be involved in customizing the show going forward.

“We could have had a fun process involving community members in terms of designing what some of these drone elements might look like,” Whalen said. “I think we should do that next year.”