Drone light show to replace July 4 fireworks

The Laguna Beach night sky will look a little different this Fourth of July as the city council unanimously approved a drone light show instead of traditional fireworks at Tuesday’s regular meeting.

The July 4 drone show will be on a one-year trial basis, allowing the city to return to fireworks in 2025 if the drones are unsatisfactory.

Residents and visitors watch fireworks go off from Main Beach during last year’s Fourth of July celebration. Photo courtesy of Mitch Ridder

“At the end of the day, this comes down to protecting our environment, veterans and our wildlife,” Mayor Pro Tem Alex Rounaghi said. “I’m willing to try this drone show out for this year. Hopefully, going forward, we can design this show to make it a really cool experience for residents and visitors.”

A drone light show performs customizable synchronized patterns, shapes and animations in the sky. The show can also be choreographed to music.

The 15-minute drone show will cost the city $75,000. A traditional 882-firework display of the same time frame is estimated to cost $42,000.

Like the fireworks in the past, 300 FDA-approved unmanned aerial vehicles, supplied by drone heavyweights Sky Elements, will launch from Heisler Park. However, adverse weather conditions like high wind speeds or low visibility could cancel the event.

Residents also came out in support of the council’s decision, noting firework noises could cause the triggering of post-traumatic stress among military veterans and damage to both domestic and wild animals, among other environmental concerns.

“Fireworks are terrible for wildlife, especially nesting birds,” Judie Mancuso said. “It’s the number one day of the year for dogs to get hit by cars and go into shelters because of the noise. They get spooked. Every Fourth of July, I end up finding someone’s dog.”

However, not everyone is on board with the switch to drones. A petition to keep Laguna’s 40-year-old traditional fireworks show is circulating on neighborhood Facebook groups, and as of press time, there were more than 100 e-signatures.

“The fireworks show is not merely a spectacle of lights and sounds; it is a deep-rooted tradition that embodies the spirit of our community and our nation’s history,” the petition states. “It is a time-honored event that fosters a sense of community, unity, and patriotic celebration. Replacing this beloved tradition with a drone show, albeit modern and innovative, strips away a fundamental part of our collective identity and heritage.”

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