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Organizers make it official: No La Jolla fireworks show this Fourth of July

A sign at Kellogg Park in La Jolla Shores on July 3 confirms the La Jolla fireworks show will not go on.
A sign at Kellogg Park in La Jolla Shores on July 3 confirms that the La Jolla Fourth of July fireworks show will not go on after it ended up lacking a place to launch.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

The show will not go on in La Jolla this Fourth of July.

After state and city officials told organizers this week that the planned fireworks display would not be allowed over La Jolla Cove for lack of a needed permit, Deborah Marengo, director of the La Jolla Community Fireworks Foundation, told the La Jolla Light on July 3 that the show is off because “we were unable to secure a location.”

Organizers had said at a July 1 news conference that they were hoping to move the show to another site, possibly La Jolla Shores.

Asked about the possibility of any alternative form of celebration, Marengo said, “I can only speak to the fireworks, and there are none.”

This is the fourth consecutive year that the formerly long-running La Jolla Independence Day fireworks show has been canceled. It was not held last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the previous two years due to lack of funding.

The show’s demise this year came after the California Coastal Commission said June 30 that the display should be moved from La Jolla Cove, citing potential disturbance of sea lions at Point La Jolla and a failure of organizers to secure necessary permitting in time.

Dave Rolland, senior advisor of communications for San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, also said the show would not be permitted to go on as planned near The Cove.

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

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.

A notice issued to Marengo also stated 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.”

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.

Jack McGrory, who has been helping the Community Fireworks Foundation raise funds for the show, said at the news conference that “we’ve had these fireworks for 33 of the last 36 years and never been required to get a coastal development permit.”

According to the city’s municipal code, temporary events like the La Jolla fireworks 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.”

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.

In mid-June, Marengo 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, Rolland told the Light that the city “did not receive a permit application for the event until June 10, leaving insufficient time to process the necessary authorizations.”

“While we know this is frustrating, the city must follow all applicable laws and regulations to safeguard residents and environmentally sensitive lands,” he said.

Marengo said after the July 1 news conference that she felt she was unable to apply for a permit before June 10, as the city had not yet announced whether restrictions related to the pandemic would fall away with the state’s projected June 15 ending of most pandemic mandates.

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) appear at a July 1 news conference. At the time, they said they were still working to hold a Fourth of July fireworks show in La Jolla.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Also on 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.

After the 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.”

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 needed “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.

In April, Marengo said organizers were hoping to raise about $100,000 to fund this year’s show and a down payment for next year.

When asked July 3 what will happen with the money for this year’s show in light of the cancellation, Marengo said, “Our plans will be announced in a few days.”

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