Worries Over Nearby Sea Lions Could Derail La Jolla's July 4th Fireworks Show
Fireworks could be returning to La Jolla on the Fourth of July, if organizers can overcome a legal challenge from people concerned about sea lions.
Sea lions converge on the rocky shores around Point La Jolla because it is an good place to give birth to their young.
Federal officials declared the region a sea lion rookery in 2019, giving the area an official designation as a place where the marine mammals can rear their young.
The sea lion nursery is a tourist attraction for thousands of people who walk by each day.
“People are mostly surprised that there’s so little guidance and so little oversight of this area,” said Carol Toye, a Sierra Club member who tries to educate the public and keep them at a safe distance.
San Diego has promised better signage and a more visible ranger presence.
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But people are not their only concern.
“We are greatly alarmed about the fireworks,” said Richard Miller of the Sierra Club’s San Diego Chapter.
Local boosters want to bring back a Fourth of July fireworks display, something that was a staple here for decades. Those fireworks would be launched from the park right beside the sea lion rookery.
“If they do have fireworks here, that will flush every single one off the point, and their pups,” Miller said. “And once again, there’s an opportunity that we lose an entire generation of sea lions just from having fireworks here.”
But La Jolla boosters say the concerns are unfounded and they think the display is an important community-building event.
“Everyone here in La Jolla loves where we live, our community or environment,” said Deborah Marengo, the director of the La Jolla Community Fireworks Foundation. “If we ever thought that we were doing any type of harm by celebrating our independence day by shooting off fireworks, that show would not go on.”
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But the show hasn’t actually happened in La Jolla since 2017.
Her group fought off legal challenges in 2010 and 2014 that raised concerns about the environmental impact of the show.
“There was really no merit,” Marengo said. “There was no proof the fireworks which happen one day a year on July Fourth and it’s a 25-minute show. It had never caused any harm.”
The lawsuits never canceled the fireworks display but Marengo says the legal fight impacted fundraising.
There simply wasn’t enough money for shows in 2018 and 2019.
“In 2019 and the beginning of 20 some members of the community wanted to bring it back in 2020,” Marengo said. “And we had been working on fundraising and we were ready to go with a 2020 show and then the pandemic hit.”
The patriotic show is under fire from another lawsuit that Marengo she says is the same as earlier challenges.
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But the Animal Protection and Rescue League, which filed the suit in Superior Court, sees it differently.
Attorney Bryan Pease, who sits on the group’s board, filed suit in Superior Court.
“There’s a marine mammal rookery right there. Which has only been since 2019 declared under federal law to exist,” said Bryan Pease, the attorney who filed the suit. He also sits on the Protection League’s board.
“So, prior to 2019, it wasn’t the same legal landscape,” Pease said. “So now we have the official designation of being a sea lion rookery. Whether the National Marine Fisheries Service is going to enforce that or not, I don’t know.”
KPBS reached out to the federal agency that oversees marine mammals and officials there had no opinion on either the legal action or the fireworks.
It could be many months before the lawsuit is resolved.