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Los Angeles Times
Some L.A. fireworks shows canceled after new environmental rules. 'We're all disappointed'
By Grace Toohey,
In response to newly mandated environmental rules, several Fourth of July fireworks shows along Los Angeles County's coastline have been canceled.
The decisions come just a month after the L.A. Regional Water Quality Control Board adopted a protective fireworks display permit in late May , which requires new best practices aimed at reducing plastics and other pollution that could fall into oceans or marinas from fireworks displays.
The catalyst for the new permit came from a federal lawsuit brought by environmental activists against Long Beach's Big Bang on the Bay, which claimed that the show had violated the Clean Water Act by discharging pollutants into Alamitos Bay. Although a judge didn't rule in favor of the environmental group, evidence from the trial found at least one instance of "fireworks-related pollutants," pushing the regional water board to improve regulation of these shows over waterways.
Because the water board adopted the new permit requirements so close to the Fourth of July, officials said they reached out to "known fireworks displays over coastal waters in Los Angeles and Ventura counties to explain the permit requirements and offer assistance with permit applications," the board said in a statement.
Most of the county's planned fireworks shows on Independence Day — from Long Beach to Marina del Rey — are expected to comply with the new standards aimed at protecting waterways below the colorful explosions, but a handful of shows will not occur given the new requirements.
All those shows — there are at least five, including two in Redondo Beach — had planned to use the Rialto-based company Pyro Spectaculars by Souza , which decided it would not seek the necessary permit from the Los Angeles water board, according to the board.
"We cannot and will not risk the safety of our staff and the public to comply with the restrictive regulations," Chief Executive Jim Souza said in a statement. "The water board instituted the new regulations quickly and unilaterally, with little input from us, one of the largest and most experienced firework show producers in the nation."
Souza said his company works to be environmentally conscious, but it will not comply with the new regulations for shows over waterways in L.A. and Ventura counties this year.
Water board officials pointed out that various other fireworks vendors have been able to comply with the new permit requirements.
The two canceled shows in Redondo Beach were at Seaside Lagoon or Kings Harbor, run by the city, and at the Redondo Riviera, put on by a private organization. Pyro Spectaculars was also supposed to do a show at the Bel-Air Bay Club in Pacific Palisades, which is now putting on a drone light show. A spokesperson for Pyro Spectaculars said another canceled show was in Malibu, but didn't specify where. It wasn't immediately clear where the fifth canceled show was supposed to be held.
"I’ve lived here a long time and I think this is the first year there will be no fireworks in King Harbor," Redondo Beach Mayor Bill Brand said at a council meeting earlier this month.
Redondo Beach City Manager Mike Witzansky called the outcome "frustrating" because he said the city and its Fire Department worked under a tight deadline to try to ensure the city could adhere to the new permit requirements from the water board, but their vendor, Pyro Spectaculars, felt "uncomfortable trying to comply with it," he said.
He said it was too last-minute to find another fireworks provider or move the show to a land-based venue.
“We’re all disappointed," Witzansky said at the meeting. "As it relates to future shows, there is a way for us to host a barge-based show in the future with these permit conditions, we just will likely need to find an alternative vendor.”
At least seven shows along L.A.'s coast are in the permitting process and expected to get approval, according to L.A. water board Chair Norma Camacho. Those shows include Long Beach's Boat House on the Bay; the Marina del Rey show; the Port of Los Angeles ' Cars and Stripes event June 30 and July 4 event at Cabrillo Beach; and three shows put on by the City of Long Beach — at Harry Bridges Memorial Park, the Carnival Ship Dock and the Floating Barge behind Queens Mary — according to the board.
The water board did not respond to questions about the Fourth of July fireworks planned on Catalina Island over Avalon Bay , but a spokesperson for the island's tourism authority said the show was expected to proceed "in compliance with all applicable regulations."
It wasn't immediately clear how many shows in Ventura County were permitted or if any had been canceled.
Camacho said there was still time for an event to get a permit by July 4, but said it "depends on the completeness of the permit application and the best management practice plan."
In the federal lawsuit that prompted this permitting change, a judge in April found there wasn't evidence of ongoing violations of the Clean Water Act but noted that the show in 2022 had discharged pollutants into the bay. (The Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation, which brought the lawsuit, has appealed the ruling to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.)
Though the ruling wasn't in her group's favor, Livia Borak Beaudin, one of the lead attorneys for CERF, still called the ruling a partial victory "because the court found that the defendant had discharged pollutants." She said the finding helped create these new regulations for fireworks shows, which she said are similar to permits required by water boards in San Diego and San Francisco for fireworks over waterways.
“I get that there are some people who are going to be upset about their firework show being canceled," Beaudin said. "But it can go forward. It just has to be regulated to do as much as you can to minimize” environmental damage.
At the May water board meeting where members confirmed the permit, a representative for Pyro Spectaculars said the company was worried about the safety of its pyrotechnicians, who would be required to do real-time visual monitoring during a show and carry out cleanup soon after a show. Water board officials said such teams could use unmanned video monitoring systems such as a GoPro and pointed out that the permit only requires best practices that are "practicable and economically achievable."
Beaudin, who said the new Los Angeles-region permit is the strongest seen thus far, is calling for stricter restrictions on plastic debris from the fireworks and better monitoring, which will help the water board learn the extent of firework pollution.
“I think that the Redondo Beach cancellation is unfortunate, but it’s one firework company," she said. "Other companies have been able to comply."