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Will we see fireworks over coastal fireworks in Sacramento?

February 2, 2011 - 3:01 pm

Assembly Member Diane Harkey, a Republican whose district covers the coast from Carlsbad to Dana Point, has filed a bill that she says will protect public firework shows from regulation by the California Coastal Commision.

The bill, AB 206, would exempt fireworks from the Coastal Act by declaring that the displays are not “developments” under the definition of the law.

“I think this bill has about as much appeal as America and apple pie,” Harkey tells CityBeat in a phone interview. “Fireworks at the beach for the general public have been a draw for years and right now, when people are trying to find activities that are inexpensive and family oriented, where they can have a great day, why would any government agency want to take that way? I don’t understand it. It befuddles the mind.”

The bill is a direct reaction to a state appellate court decision (pdf) last year over a fireworks display in Gualala. The court determined the fireworks display was, indeed, a “development” and could be controlled by the California Coastal Commission. Critics described the decision as the “death knell for small town fireworks in America.”

Harkey was especially harsh on the Coastal Commission for even arguing that they should regulate fireworks to begin with.

“The agency just needs a job to do,” she said. “To kill people’s fun is not what the state of California should be about.”

Livia Borak, an attorney representing the Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation (CERF), had equally harsh remarks for Harkey.

“Why don’t Republicans do something truly patriotic and strengthen our environmental laws instead of attempting to weaken them?” Borak said.

CERF is often in the spotlight regarding fireworks; its threat of litigation reportedly stopped San Diego’s New Year’s Eve fireworks over the San Diego Bay in 2009. The group is currently suing the city of San Diego over the 2010 Fourth of July fireworks display in La Jolla  and to halt the upcoming Fourth of July fireworks.  Harkey’s legislation would not have an impact on the La Jolla case, Borak says, but the firm nonetheless opposes the bill.

“It is an insult to anyone who enjoys coastal resources,” Borak writes, via email. “Last year, a First District appellate court upheld the Coastal Commission’s finding that a fireworks show was a development for purposes of the Coastal Act. This does not mean fireworks are prohibited in the coastal zone. It simply means they are subject to regulation under the Coastal Act. It’s troubling that fireworks display proponents consistently try to evade regulation by the state and federal government. These laws don’t ban fireworks, they simply regulate them.”

Perhaps more importantly, Borak says the bill sets a negative precedent by creating a specific exemption for an activity.

“Whenever something new gets defined as development under the Coastal Act, someone will propose legislation to exempt it from the Coastal Act,” Borak says.


For the sake of transparency, I have to disclosure that last Fourth of July I wrote a short piece about fireworks displays in science fiction and fantasy films. That piece was then cited by David Porter (head of performing arts at Kirkley High School in Lowestoft, England and an arts writer for the East Anglian Times) in an essay titled, “Fireworks: Cultural, Civic, National Celebrations and Politics.” In fact, my stuff took up the entire conclusion:

National and local pride, history, tradition and culture are things that politicians plug into instinctively. The arguments about cost, pollution and the mess afterwards, usually follow. While it’s hard to predict the future, if the movies are any guide, fireworks are here to stay.

According to Dave Maass on the TV channel Syfy web: ‘If there’s one thing we’ve learned about sci-fi, it’s that no futurist or fantasist can imagine a world where humans don’t blow stuff up for fun. Fireworks are the original eye candy, the special effects that existed before filmmakers knew they even needed regular effects.’

He cited Harry Potter & The Order of the Phoenix, V for Vendetta, Coneheads, The Boy Who Could Fly, Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, Galaxy Quest, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor; The Fellowship of the Ring and Flight of The Navigator among others to illustrate the point about the longevity of fireworks.

So, I guess that makes me a bit biased, right? I do love fireworks.

Writer’s note: I added that Harkey is a Republican in the first line of this post.


3 Comments leave one →
  1. fdrouillard permalink
    February 3, 2011 - 8:23 am 8:23 am

    Exempting coastal fireworks displays from a CDP would result in great harm to coastal resources in Gualala. In that case, fireworks over the 4th of July weekend harmed colonies of nesting birds on a rock island offshore. The Coastal Commission would not have stepped in and required a permit if no harm were done.

    The Coastal Commission does not want to regulate fireworks. Rather, they are charged with protecting coastal resources from permanent or temporary “development” activities (the Coastal Act has an expanded definition of development that includes fireworks).

    It is important to note that the Executive Director appealed to the promoters of Gualala fireworks to come in and discuss the event so they could work out conditions that would allow the fireworks to proceed. Those promoters refused to do so and chose to litigate instead.

    The Executive Director has the authority to exempt temporary events from a CDP where no harm is done to coastal resources. That is the case for fireworks in Point Arena. The Executive Director could exempt Gualala fireworks over the Labor Day if it were found that they didn’t harm coastal resources. It’s more likely that finding could be reached because the nesting birds are gone by then.

    The ironic result of the Gualala Festivals Committee / PLF suit against the Coastal Commission is that the Executive Director now has less wiggle room to exempt fireworks displays from a CDP.

    But the Coastal Commission does issue permits for coastal fireworks displays because there are ways to mitigate the harm caused by those displays. As a result, specific exemptions aren’t necessary and should not become law. For that reason AB 206 should be vigorously opposed.

  2. 4oceans permalink
    February 3, 2011 - 8:27 am 8:27 am

    Na, Dave, it doesn’t make u bias. You can (and I do) love fireworks while recognizing that blowing them off over birds and wildlife is stupid and dangerous. In fact, even school children get it. Only knuckleheads like Harkey and her patron extremists like Pacific Legal Foundation (who lost the lawsuit up north) don’t get it. These are the guys in high school who would love nothing more than to shoot the bombs right at wildlife. Instead of Harkey trying to use the law to support reckless endangerment, I suggest she concentrate instead on her hapless constituents right there in Dana Point, who are being denied public beach access by the City in order to create a private beach for mansion owners at the headlands. Now that would be a useful bit of legislation in support of the public instead of special interest cheerleading for extremists.

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