Lawsuit tries to stop La Jolla Fourth of July fireworks

Fireworks explode over La Jolla Cove during a past Independence Day celebration.

A lawsuit seeks to stop La Jolla’s planned Fourth of July fireworks display, citing harm that could come to local marine life.

The suit, filed in San Diego County Superior Court by San Diego environmental attorney Bryan Pease on behalf of the Animal Protection and Rescue League, “seeks to enjoin defendants Deborah Marengo, La Jolla Community Fireworks Foundation, La [Jolla] Fireworks Foundation Inc. and La Jolla Town Foundation from blasting off fireworks over La Jolla Cove at Point La Jolla, a sea lion rookery, which is an area where marine mammals give birth on land.”

Marengo is the director of the La Jolla Community Fireworks Foundation, which works with the La Jolla Town Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, as a fiscal partner for tax-deductible contributions.

As of May 26, she had not yet been served with the lawsuit and wanted to review it before commenting.

In April, Marengo told the La Jolla Light that the fireworks show “is going to happen this year” and that “our fundraising committee has been meeting for the last few months in anticipation of our permit being approved, and the fire marshal indicated the permit would be approved for this year.”

Pease told the Light that “there are general issues with fireworks, but the area here is a sensitive marine habitat, so it is unacceptable.” He said the fireworks display would violate the Marine Mammal Protection Act, local noise ordinances and sections of the San Diego municipal code and would disturb other local animals.

He added that with the Children’s Pool less than a mile from where the fireworks would be launched, there also would be an impact on harbor seals born during the recent pupping season, which ended May 15.

“There are new pups that will be resting there, and some don’t know how to swim,” Pease said. “Their mothers would get scared and get into the water, but being so soon after pupping season, the pups would be harmed.”

La Jolla's Children's Pool
La Jolla’s Children’s Pool is less than a mile from where the Fourth of July fireworks would be released, and animal-rights activists are voicing concern for harbor seals born during the recent pupping season and for other marine mammals.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

In a statement to the Light, Sierra Club Seal Society members Carol Archibald and Ellen Shively said their group “is very concerned about the possibility of fireworks in La Jolla launched directly adjacent to the sea lion rookery due to its devastating effects on the wildlife, sea lions, harbor seals, cormorants, pelicans and seagulls.”

“Sea lions give birth in June [and] July, so many newborn pups and pregnant and nursing females will be in the area directly adjacent to where the fireworks will be launched,” the statement said. “Close proximity to fireworks is highly likely to cause mothers to flee the area, leaving their pups vulnerable to drowning (pups can’t swim until 3 to 4 months of age) or abandonment and starvation. ...

“The fireworks should be launched in an area away from the rookeries, birds and ocean. Quieter/silent fireworks or a light show could be used.”

Fireworks also can scare household pets such as dogs and cause them to run away. “There is typically a spike in the number of stray animals that we receive the day after a big holiday like July Fourth,” Gary Weitzman, president and chief executive of the San Diego Humane Society, says on its website.

The suit contends the fireworks also would result in “pollution of the air and water with chemicals ... damaging sensitive marine life in the area. Harmful byproducts of fireworks including perchlorate, dioxins and metals that are considered persistent, bio-accumulative and toxic chemicals. These chemicals may adversely impact marine mammal and human health and the environment. The air quality following a fireworks display may be characterized by elevated particulate-matter levels that may remain for an extended period of time.”

The annual fireworks show was launched in 1985 by restaurateur George Hauer, owner of George’s at the Cove, who financed it himself for more than 20 years. The Community Fireworks Foundation took over in 2010.

From 2010 to 2014, legal challenges were filed on behalf of the Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation to try to prevent the fireworks or limit their scope due to concerns about their impact on the environment. None prevented the fireworks shows, but organizers believed the suits caused some donor hesitancy.

The fireworks display was canceled in 2018 and ’19 due to lack of funding and in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions.

When the planned return of the fireworks was announced earlier this year, Marengo said: “I feel it’s something the community needs. It’s been a tough year for all the merchants. … We’re ready for having tourists and locals back in The Village.”

But Pease said that “if those that [want the show] knew the impact, they wouldn’t want to see this return. There is so much that people can do to celebrate summer, especially now that more businesses are open. I don’t see why a fireworks show is so crucial.” ◆