Fireworks fizzle? California Coastal Commission says Fourth show should be moved away from La Jolla Cove

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

Citing potential disturbance of sea lions at Point La Jolla and a failure of organizers to secure needed permits in time, the California Coastal Commission said June 30 that La Jolla’s planned Fourth of July fireworks display should be moved from La Jolla Cove. It remains to be seen whether the show will take place at another location four days from now.

Dave Rolland, senior advisor of communications for San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, confirmed to the La Jolla Light 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 La Jolla Community Fireworks Foundation director Deborah Marengo states 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.”

Installation of planned city signage directing people to keep their distance from sea lions at Point La Jolla and La Jolla Cove may be imminent, according to the Sierra Club Seal Society.

Further, it was determined that event organizers had not obtained certain permits needed for this year’s show, according to the notice.

The commission told the city 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,” the notice says.

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 off La Jolla Shores Drive, Torrey Pines Gliderport, Kate Sessions Park or a barge off the coast located farther away from the sea lions.

Marengo did not respond June 30 to a request for comment but said July 1 that she would hold a 5 p.m. news conference to “clear the air” about the situation. She did not elaborate.

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.”

However, Coastal Commission staff determined that the show needed to undergo a California Environmental Quality Act review and obtain authorization from the Regional Water Quality Control Board, along with 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 stated 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 told the Light 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 would disturb other local animals.

Pease said June 30 that even if the show is moved to La Jolla Shores or another location nearby, it could still have an impact on the sea lions.

APRL sought a temporary restraining order to prevent the fireworks. A result is expected in coming days. ◆