For the first time in more than 30 years, fireworks shells will not blast, streak or explode over Laguna Beach’s Heisler Park in the customary July 4 extravaganza.

Instead, the City Council has opted to go with a drone show, a suggestion pushed by the city’s Environmental and Sustainability Committee to be more conscious of the environment, the community’s animals, nearby wildlife and sea creatures impacted by the blast and debris.

To put on the show, a unified council supported increasing the funding for the 15-minute display from the $42,000 that nearly 900 pyrotechnic shells would have cost to $75,000 for 300 drones.

The drones will perform synchronized movements in the dark sky, creating patterns, shapes, and animations likely accompanied by music, officials said.

“Demand for the drones vastly exceeds the supply,” said Jeremy Frimond, assistant city manager, about the rush staff will put on finding a vendor. Asked about music, he said staffers would verify it’s included in the price. He also added that there may be some way to synchronize the music with the local radio station or through a cellphone app.

Councilmembers said they will wait for community feedback before agreeing to the concept again in 2025.

The drones should address concerns raised by residents and councilmembers that smoke during past fireworks displays mostly shrouded the pyrotechnics because, historically, there is often no wind off the water on the Fourth of July. When this happened, many residents said they would see very little of the fireworks show.

With the drones, there is some risk the show could be called off if there are wind issues or if visibility is poor, Frimond said. The Federal Aviation Administration regulates drone use.

“I’m excited you’re taking this up,” Judie Mancuso, vice-chair of the Environmental and Sustainability Committee, told councilmembers when they recently discussed the change.

She listed multiple impacts that would be addressed, including pollution and the danger for dogs that get “so spooked” they get hit by cars or end up in shelters. She also raised concerns for veterans who have PTSD.

“My brother is a Vietnam vet and to this day, he can’t tolerate fireworks shows,” she said.

Another resident suggested that maybe Laguna Beach doesn’t need a show at all.

“Thousands of people watching the show were from out of town and then there’s a riot when they leave,” he said, detailing his experiences as a resident at Heisler Park in past years. “It’s brutal on the streets. I’d opt for abandoning it. Fiscally, it’s not a responsible thing to do.

Councilmembers Bob Whalen and Alex Rounaghi approved of the drone idea, but questioned whether the city will get to provide much input into the show’s design because of the last-minute planning for this year. Whalen said it would have been nice to get community input for what the show would look like and what types of designs and animations could be shown.

“The community could turn this into something great to celebrate our country and the community on the Fourth of July,” Rounaghi said.

“This comes down to the environment,” he added. “The impact on the ocean creatures is significant, the impact on the animals is significant, the impact on the veterans is significant. Hopefully, we can design a show that is a cool experience for residents and visitors alike.”

Staffers are expected to review final plans and return to the council with appropriate documentation from the California Environmental Quality Act.

“I like change,” Councilmember Mark Orgill said. “I’m for the drones. They’re interesting. We’re Laguna; we’re supposed to be forward-thinking.”

Read the article in the OC Register here.

Judie Mancuso For City Council © 2024 All Rights Reserved