During the July 9 La Jolla Village Merchants Association (LJVMA) meeting, trustees voted to explore taking over production of La Jolla’s annual Fourth of July fireworks display from the La Jolla Community Fireworks Foundation (LJCFF), the grassroots effort launched in 2009 by businessman Adam Harris and Deborah Marengo, wife of LJVMA board president Claude-Anthony Marengo.
Since inheriting the fireworks from restaurateur George Hauer — who produced and funded the event during its first 23 years —Deborah Marengo’s group has been subject to legal challenges from Coast Law Group, which claims debris and noise from San Diego’s fireworks shows have a detrimental effect on the environment that must be carefully mitigated (read more about the lawsuits at lajollalight.com).
Deborah Marengo has also had difficulty raising enough money from the community to stage the fireworks, she said, and has for the past three years announced her intent to cancel the show weeks before the event — eventually pulling it together at the 11th-hour.
Board president Claude-Anthony Marengo said he asked his wife if she would be “willing to let our organization take the lead (on the fireworks) and put her as a chair of some sort.
“We would have to (create) a separate foundation so that we wouldn’t be mixing funds (with the LJVMA),” Claude-Anthony said, touting the opportunity for the merchants to grow the event and include such things as a grilling competition in Ellen Browning Scripps Park, where each year people arrive early the morning of July 4 to claim prime viewing spots. He said vendors sell light sticks and other merchandise in Scripps Park, which are sales and promotional opportunities that the LJVMA should be capitalizing on.
“I call them poachers,” Claude-Anthony added of what he said are likely non-licensed vendors. “Those things should be coming from us, they should be controlled by us.”
Addressing trustees July 9 Deborah Marengo said the LJVMA could apply for grant money from the San Diego Tourism Authority to help fund the event. “The Fourth of July weekend is only a success because of the fireworks, and it benefits your merchants,” she said. “If you’d like to consider taking it over I will work with you.”
LJVMA board secretary Krista Baroudi (of La Jolla Cove Suites) said her hotel occupancy was “way down” due to this year’s cancellation scare and would have been “seriously impacted” had the show not occurred.
“The entire Village would have been impacted without this show,” Baroudi said. “If you take that show out of La Jolla, the Village has nothing to offer on the Fourth of July weekend. The hotels run three-day minimums, which are basically bringing the tourists in for a block of time to enjoy the Village.”
Although several hotels contribute to the fireworks, Claude-Anthony said he feels Village business owners should take a greater stake in the event. To date, the majority of sponsorship for the typically $30,000-plus show has been from residents, he said.
“We can make it something that’s inclusive of the businesses and make it a full-day event … a bigger weekend extravaganza,” he said, noting that businesses who donate could be given a sign to place in their windows labeling them as a “proud sponsor.”