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Coastal Commission staff says incomplete application led to 'Big Bang' cancelation

The annual Big Bang on the Bay's cancelation this year set off dueling accusations between its organizer and the California Coastal Commission.

Coastal Commission staff says incomplete application led to 'Big Bang' cancelation
Stock photo of fireworks courtesy of Designecologist at Pexels.

Alamitos Bay will be much quieter this July 3 after the organizer of the annual “Big Bang on the Bay” event failed to provide state regulators with an environmental analysis and alternatives for the celebrations like laser or drone shows, according to California Coastal Commission.

John Morris, who owns Boathouse on the Bay and puts on the annual fireworks show in the city, said the California Coastal Commission notified him this week that the application to the commission to put on the show this year was filed on May 16, which was “one day late.”

The application was filed by the Boys & Girls Club of Long Beach, one of the charities that Morris said stood to benefit from this year’s event, but he received word Monday it wasn’t enough time to make it onto the June agenda for the commission to vote on.

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“They’ve been doing whatever they can to block this fireworks show and now they’re using this as their angle,” Morris said in a lengthy message posted on Facebook.

The Big Bang on the Bay has been a tradition in the city for over a decade, but fireworks shows in general have come under greater scrutiny from the Coastal Commission due to the pollution they can cause and the effects they can have on wildlife.

“And because there are impacts to these resources, which are protected by state law, the commission decided it was appropriate that they need a coastal development permit,” said Shannon Vaughn, a district manager for the commission.

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Vaughn noted that last year the commission told Morris that he needed to include alternative options for this year's event such as light or drone shows. Reviewing that analysis, which was not included in the application submitted this year, can take as long as 180 days, Vaughn said.

Joshua Smith, a spokesperson for the commission, said that staff began reaching out to Morris in January to work with him on this year’s permit to ensure that the show would meet the specifications laid out by the commission. But those attempts were unsuccessful and the application didn’t arrive until May, Smith said.

“Not only is it coming in at the 11th hour, but it didn’t have everything it needs,” Smith said of the incomplete application.

Smith also noted that Morris violated the guidelines of the permit that he was issued last year, which ordered him not to block pedestrians from using public walkways, docks or parking lots near the ticketed event.

The June 4 letter said the commission was alerted to the violations through photographs taken at last year’s Big Bang event where fences, security guards and ropes were used to block public access in violation of his permit.

Morris blames commission staff and local environmentalists who have fought against the show as culprits for this year’s unplanned cancellation. Morris said he still intends to plan a fireworks show for this year, but it will have to wait until Labor Day weekend if the Coastal Commission approves.

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“It’s never about the people, it’s about the bureaucrats having power and a couple environmentalists who don’t give a crap about what the community wants,” Morris said on social media. “They stick to their guns and there’s no compromise.”

Morris could not be reached for comment.

Morris fought a lawsuit last year that was filed against the show with allegations that the fireworks debris caused by exploding mortars put harmful chemicals into the bay and the loud noises scared off birds and other wildlife. Morris said he spent over $300,000 defending the show before a judge finally dismissed that suit in April 2023.

The Big Bang on the Bay is just one of the annual fireworks shows in the city during the July Fourth holiday. The city of Long Beach also sponsors a show on July 4, which falls on a Thursday this year.

Whether the Labor Day weekend show is approved is still up in the air. Vaughn said commission staff is now working with the Boys & Girls Club to shore up the application for a potential September show, but the commission will still want to see an analysis of more eco-friendly show options that don’t include fireworks.

Staff can’t make a recommendation to the commission to vote on until they receive a complete application, she said.

“We don’t know that,” Vaughn said.  “Maybe the laser lights have [more of] a negative effect on birds than fireworks do. We don’t know.”

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