By Pat Sherman
Organizers of La Jolla’s annually imperiled Fourth of July fireworks display at Scripps Park once again say the event may not take place, though this year’s cancellation seems more certain — unless swift and strong financial and organizational intervention is offered.
Deborah Marengo, co-founder and director of the La Jolla Community Fireworks Foundation (LJCFF), which produces the annual event, said she usually has about two-thirds of the money needed for the event by this time of year, after which she puts out a call for the remainder of funds. She maintained there is little chance that this year’s $30,000 pyrotechnics show will take place.
“I’ve not raised a dime from the community,” Marengo told
La Jolla Light
- “No one has come forward with any of my requests for donations this year.”
Marengo said the only donation she’s received is $1,500 from attorney Robert Howard, who the LJCFF secured pro bono to fight an ongoing environmental challenge to the event.
Marengo said she still needs to secure permits for public safety and park usage, and isn’t sure whether equipment staging in Scripps Park for the new lifeguard tower under construction at La Jolla Cove will be relocated in time for the event.
“I would at least, by now, have enough money to 1) pay for permits and 2) to sign the contract for the pyrotechnics, which is pretty hefty,” she said. “I can’t put myself at risk signing contracts for the community when they’re not willing to come forward with any money. … The attitude is like, ‘Well, we’re sorry to see it go,’ so I guess it’s not that important to them. It’s sad, but that’s the case.”
The event was founded and sponsored for 25 years by restaurateur George Hauer (of George’s at the Cove), who passed it off to LJCFF five years ago (which then included La Jolla tech consultant Adam Harris).
Mark Dibella, managing director of La Valencia Hotel, said the LJCFF had an additional commitment of $2,500 in annual event sponsorship this year from the hotel.
“I believe locals will be very ticked off knowing it’s not going to happen, but probably even more ticked off knowing that they didn’t even have a chance to jump in and help it,” Dibella said of the event, for which people book rooms at La Valencia and other hotels along the La Jolla’s coast, including the Grande Colonial and La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club.
“We all get a view of the fireworks, and we’re all packed,” Dibella said, adding that he hopes La Jollans will rally to the cause and help save the event in the 11th hour, as arts patrons did recently to save the San Diego Opera.
Dibella is taking the lead to assure next year’s fireworks proceed by applying for a grant from the San Diego Tourism Authority (SDTA). He said he reached out to the SDTA to fund this year’s event, though it was too late.
“They work six to 12 months out,” Dibella said, noting that SDTA provides grant money for events such as the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon and Comic-Con that have a positive financial impact on hotels and restaurants.
“This is an easy, measurable event that would fit that criteria,” Dibella said “After 18 years (working in hotel management) downtown I am more accustomed to leaning on the tourism authority to market special events. That’s what they’re there for. I want the Village residents and merchants community to take advantage of these resources we’re entitled to … and I’m going to lead that charge for the future.”
The La Jolla Town Council has also jumped in to try and help raise fireworks funds, contacting its gold members and sending an e-blast for possible contributions, as well as placing an alert on its Facebook page.
“Of course people want to help; it’s such a wonderful event” immediate past president Cindy Greatrex said.
However, even if all the financial stars aligned, Marengo said she isn’t sure whether she has enough time to pull of the event.
“It’s not just raising the money. I have a lot of work to do to put on the show. That would pretty much mean stop working and do … six months (of preparation) in basically 30 days — and I’d probably have to go down and do a lot of begging with the city to get the permits.”
Justin Garver, a representative for District 1 City Councilmember Sherri Lightner, noted in an e-mail that as of May 23 the LJCFF had not yet started the paperwork for a Park Use Permit for the use of Scripps Park, though he said “It’s an over the counter permit that is very quick to obtain. According to the person who processes those permits for Park and Rec, the Fireworks Foundation would be able to obtain that permit anytime before June 30, provided some other competing event doesn’t apply for a permit for the use of the park first. That’s the only permit required by the city.”
Garver said if there are additional permit requirements from the California Regional Water Quality Control Board, Lightner’s office would ask its state representatives to help expedite those permits.
Marengo said she would likely need one or two large donors to come forward, as it would cost her money to refund small donations made with credit cards if the event were still cancelled.
“If the money could be raised for next year, I’d be happy to bring it back, but I just need the commitment,” she said.
To contact Marengo about a donation or to offer organizational support, e-mail her at