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La Jolla fireworks organizers say they’re not ready to give up on plans for July 4 show

Jim Heffner, Jack McGrory, Brett Murphy and Deborah Marengo (from left) are still working on a fireworks show in La Jolla.
Jim Heffner, Jack McGrory, Brett Murphy and Deborah Marengo (from left) say they are still trying for a Fourth of July fireworks show in La Jolla.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

The La Jolla Fourth of July fireworks show is still searching for a home, organizers said at a July 1 news conference in response to an announcement the day before that state and city officials would not allow the holiday display to go on over La Jolla Cove as planned.

“Two days ago, we were informed by the city [of San Diego] that we would have to get a coastal development permit” from the California Coastal Commission, said Jack McGrory, who has been helping the La Jolla Community Fireworks Foundation raise funds for the show.

The city of San Diego says it is willing to work with organizers on ‘alternative celebration ideas.’

“We’ve had these fireworks for 33 of the last 36 years and never been required to get a coastal development permit,” McGrory contended.

“We are evaluating all the alternatives,” McGrory said, including moving the fireworks to La Jolla Shores, though he said it wasn’t clear whether a coastal development permit would be required there as well.

According to the city’s municipal code, temporary events like the La Jolla fireworks show can be deemed exempt from obtaining a coastal development permit. However, according to the code, there are situations that could disqualify an event from exemption, including if the city determines the event “has the potential to adversely affect ... environmentally sensitive lands.”

Opponents of the fireworks argue that they would pose a risk to nearby sea lions and other marine life.

City officials said the decision to require the permit this year was made after seeking guidance from the Coastal Commission and the city attorney’s office.

“We’re going to continue to fight forward and try to make these fireworks a reality,” McGrory said. “We’re going to work ... to make sure we can pull off some kind of fireworks display.”

La Jolla Community Fireworks Foundation attorney Jim Heffner said, “We’re still looking into our options, but there is a chance we’ll be in court tomorrow.” He would not elaborate about possible court actions.

In mid-June, Deborah Marengo, director of the Community Fireworks Foundation, said the fireworks display would proceed as planned. 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.”

But on June 30, Dave Rolland, senior advisor of communications for San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, told the La Jolla Light that the city “did not receive a permit application for the event until June 10, leaving insufficient time to process the necessary authorizations.”

Marengo said after the July 1 news conference that she felt she was unable to apply for a permit before then, as the city had not yet announced whether restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic would fall away with the state’s projected June 15 ending of most pandemic mandates.

Earlier in the day July 1, San Diego County Superior Court Judge Kenneth Medel denied a request for a temporary restraining order from the Animal Protection and Rescue League aimed at stopping the La Jolla fireworks show.

“Given that there is no allegation or proof that the city issued a permit for the fireworks at issue, and, at this juncture, the city has denied the permit, there is no justiciable controversy,” Medel wrote.

In an email after the court ruling, environmental attorney Bryan Pease said a lawsuit he filed on APRL’s behalf in May will continue in an effort to “prevent the possibility of any future fireworks shows at Point La Jolla.”

Point La Jolla is a rocky area between the La Jolla Cove beach and Boomer Beach, where sea lions often go on land to rest. It also is a sea lion birthing area, and pupping season is recognized from June 1 to Oct. 31.

Pease told the Light at the time the lawsuit was filed 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 federal Marine Mammal Protection Act, local noise ordinances and sections of the San Diego municipal code and would disturb other local animals.

Brett Murphy, a former La Jolla business owner who has worked to raise money for the fireworks, said the local business community “really needs something to rally around. They need people to come in and bring business to The Village.”

McGrory said several businesses had planned fireworks viewing parties or specials.

— San Diego Union-Tribune staff writer Lyndsay Winkley contributed to this report.