Monday, June 17, 2024

UPDATED: Annual Long Beach fireworks show Big Bang on the Bay canceled amid accusations of political interference

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The annual day-before-July-4 firework extravaganza above Alamitos Bay, Big Bang on the Bay, will not be returning this year according to longtime producer and restaurateur John Morris. According to Morris, a late application to the California Coastal Commission—led by what he alleges was political interference and the Coastal Commission simply points out as a late filing of paperwork—has prompted the first time the show will not formally happen since its inception in 2011 (minus 2020, which was due to the pandemic).

With the recent cancelation of Moonlight Movies on the Bay only to be saved by the mayor at the last minute, can Big Bang on the Bay achieve the same grace? Organizer John Morris feels that is very unlikely, as the California Coastal Commission is a state entity—not a City one.

Why is Big Bang on the Bay 2024 canceled?

“I’m not so much in a happy mood today because we didn’t get good news yesterday regarding Big Bang on the Bay,” said longtime organizer and restaurateur John Morris in a video posted to social media on June 4, announcing that this year’s festivities which have traditionally taken place on July 3 will not be happening.

“It’s bullshit—total bullshit,” Morris said.

For first time, the nonprofit being focused on the receive the benefits from the sales of private seatings for the show, The Boys & Girls Club, had been working with the Coastal Commission since March. According to Morris, the nonprofit submitted their paperwork to the Commission on May 16.

“Unbeknownst to them, they had to get in by May 15,” Morris alleges. “No one from the Coastal Commission staff told them this. It was a total setup. They’ve been doing everything they can to block this firework show and they’re now using this [late paperwork submission] as their angle.”

The Coastal Commission denies this.

According to Morris, City Manager Tom Modica, along with Senator Lena Gonzales and Representative Josh Lowenthal, attempted to step in “to go to bat for us but the Commission was as strict as they could be: May 15 was the deadline and that was that,” Morris said. “The Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation has done nothing but badmouth this event, constantly, constantly, constantly with the Coastal Commission. And they’ve screwed over the Boys & Girls Club along with a multitude of other charities, let alone the community they’ve screwed over whom have planned massive parties for July 3 that will not happen,” Morris said, pointing toward the Peninsula, Naples, and Belmont Shore neighborhoods that were used as a backdrop for his video.

The Coastal Commission once again denies this, with legislative director Sarah Christie saying Morris had been offered a meeting in January of this year to coordinate with him, and letting him know that he needed to submit his permit application as soon as possible.

“He told us he would submit in early March, and then we never heard from him again,” Christie said. “Late paperwork is not an ‘angle.’ We need a completed application before we can do our analysis and write a staff report. He knows that. He submitted his application for the 2023 even in February.”

And Mayor Rex Richardson is standing by, with hopes to bring back the show come Labor Day: “We’re saddened to hear the news of the cancellation of a Long Beach summertime staple, Big Bang on the Bay,” said Richardson. “We’re working hard to see what assistance we can lend to bring Big Bang back during Labor Day weekend this year.”

What the Coastal Commission says regarding the Big Bang in the Bay

Following the publication of this story, Executive Director Kate Huckelbridge of the Coastal Commission, released the following statement, insisting they had provided Morris with proposed measures that he directly ignored:

“The Coastal Commission has been working extensively with the original applicant for the Big Bang since we permitted the event last year. At that time, the Commission raised several coastal resource concerns and requested that the applicant investigate alternatives.  For this year’s show, we were clear about needing additional information about measures to protect birds, water quality, and public access, and we wanted to make sure he followed up in a timely way this year to avoid a repeat.

“We grew concerned in January that he was not providing the materials we requested, and urged him to submit his application ASAP to ensure adequate time to review and analyze it. After initially telling us he would submit the application in March, he stopped responding. Instead, it appears that he asked the Boys and Girls Club to pull the permits for the event, without being transparent with them about the Commission’s concerns and process.  As a result, an incomplete application was submitted well past the deadline for us to get it on the Commission’s June agenda. This is very unfortunate for the Boys and Girls Club, whose fantastic work the Commission has supported in the past. We are already working with them on an alternative event for later in the year.”

This isn’t the first time Big Bang on the Bay has been thwarted by naysayers

“I’ll tell ya: They’re not nice people.”

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These are the words Morris uses to describe not just the California Coastal Commission but more specifically the environmental group, Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation (CERF), that attempted to shut down the fireworks show last year via a lawsuit, a suit Morris said he spent over $300,000 fighting. Using a video which allegedly showed a firework misfiring and landing into the water of the bay, therefore violating California’s Clean Water Act, the case was ultimately dismissed by Judge Mark C. Scarsi.

“A single post-complaint violation resulting from a rare, unexpected occurrence fails to demonstrate an ongoing violation,” Scarsi wrote in his verdict, noting that the environmental group had not “demonstrated an adequate likelihood that a low break will recur during anticipated future fireworks show.”

This case was dismissed without prejudice, meaning CERF attorneys could refile the case again in the future—and also meaning they would likely continue to attack the show, which Morris alleges they have.

The annual tradition of Big Bang on the Bay is steeped in charity and community

Approached by the City of Long Beach and then-Long Beach Fire Chief Alan Patalano to host the show in honor of the tenth anniversary of 9/11 in 2011—and since then, due to its immense popularity among immediate residents and visitors alike, has lit up the sky annually every July 3 minus 2020 due to the pandemic.

Each year, a variety of nonprofits are included to benefit from the various parties going on—like Morris’s annual Block Party that is mere yards from the barge where the fireworks are shot from—and particularly benefit Children Today. The event has raised close to a million dollars for local charities since its inception. This year marks the first time the Boys & Girls Club will be the largest benefactor from the event. Hundreds of others attend private parties that have become tradition throughout the three surrounding neighborhoods that have the best view of the show: The Peninsula, Naples, and Belmont Shore.

“One woman told me she invites over 100 people each year, with a RSVP required,” Morris said. “She has to now cancel that.”

Other restaurants in the area, including Ballast Point, San Pedro Fish Market, and those at 2nd & PCH, have also hosted parties with seats for views of the fireworks show.

Editor’s note: This article was updated with a statement from the Coastal Commission.

Brian Addison
Brian Addison
Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 25 nominations and three additional wins. In 2019, he was awarded the Food/Culture Critic of the Year across any platform at the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards.

11 COMMENTS

  1. Yaahhh! No one peeing in my alley, no beer bottles all over my front yard, no trash all over the streets………….good news!

  2. Usually reporters reach out to an agency to get their perspective–or is this the new type of journalism?

  3. The commission can schedule a Special Meeting, just like all other public agencies, and maintain compliance with the Brown Act. The agenda deadline is an excuse.

  4. Have the parties, hire live entertainment , have fun with out polluting the ocean and air. what is this fascination with things that go boom?

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