Opinion: Musings From the Coast


The Great Laguna Drone Fiasco

Our esteemed City Council appoints the Environmental and Sustainability Committee, which “provide(s) recommendations to the City Council on matters pertaining to the environment and sustainability.”

The city does have substantial issues on the environment, the most pressing of which is the City’s very own toxic waste dump. Let me explain. Laguna owns and operates its water and sewage systems, and according to state water resources data, we – hey, Laguna residents, US! WE! have dumped some 2.7 million gallons of raw sewage into our own ocean since 2007. This is more than any public agency in Orange or northern San Diego counties. Yes, raw sewage. The kind that kills fish, people, and little puppies.

This has been going on for years, yet the city has done nothing about it. Nothing. Instead, in a move to demonstrate it can do something, anything, and perfectly designed to annoy most Laguna residents, the council just voted to accept a committee recommendation to ban our annual Laguna Fourth of July fireworks show. You know, the one in which more than 20,000 locals and visitors ohh and awe, children scream with delight, and is punctuated with competing firework blasts from Emerald Bay.

In its stead, we will get….wait for it…wait…A DRONE SHOW!

Yes, instead of July 4th fireworks, we’ll get a drone show. The reasoning is so quintessential Laguna Beach, I almost want to cry—or vomit. Here are some things said from the public and Council members from an April edition The OC Register: “Fireworks would spook the dogs into running wild in the streets; vets would get PTSD; and “Thousands of people watching the show (are) from out of town and …there’s a riot when they leave.”

It’s so stupid, it should have its own meme: an image of a lunatic screaming, “We don’t really do something of consequence – or for that matter, anything – so we’ll pretend we’re doing something by banning the most popular annual event, the 4th of July fireworks celebration!”

Instead, the city will sponsor a frigging drone show.

For twice the cost.

I looked up how drone shows usually work. They depend upon hundreds of drones attached to and pulling huge nets of lights into the sky creating images like an American Flag while huge loudspeakers blare out songs such as the Star-Spangled Banner. Oh boy, can’t wait for that.

There are two major problems with this.  First, coastal fog; on the Fourth, it usually is foggy and if it is too thick, it is not safe enough to fly the drones, nor can they be seen properly, and the show would be cancelled. Secondly, drone shows depend upon hearing music from huge loudspeakers – which is fine in a stadium, but not over Laguna. The acoustics would never work. Yes, over Main Beach you would hear them, maybe, but not in the hills, north Laguna, south Laguna, or anywhere else.

So, when the thousands of families fire up their barbecues, fry their hamburgers, and wait until that magic time of the evening as the sky turns fully dark (usually about 9:15 p.m.) when the fireworks usually start to explode over our heads, what will we get? A lame drone performance that might be cancelled, music we cannot hear, and a disappointed and angry audience.

But hey, this is Laguna Beach. We don’t solve real problems, like the fixing the worst human waste system in Southern California, or actually building the permanent promenade, fixing Laguna Canyon Road, or you know, anything of consequence.

No, we nibble around the edges and do something stupid, outlawing one evening of fireworks in celebration of America. If you are as angry as me, please email Mayor Sue Kempf at [email protected], or Mayor Pro Tem Alex Rounaghi at [email protected].

It is not too late.

Michael co-founded Orange County School of the Arts, The Discovery Cube, Sage Hill School, Art Spaces Irvine and several other area nonprofit organizations. He is a business partner with Sanderson-J. Ray Development and has lived in Laguna Beach since the early 1980s.

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  1. I couldn’t agree more with your take on this stupid decision and classic example of failed leadership in Laguna Beach, however, you failed to mention the cost is nearly twice as much. The cost of fireworks, $45,000 vs. $75,000 for the drones. Guess we’re going to Newport or Dana, such a shame.

  2. OMG Seriously? You say: “US! WE! have dumped some 2.7 million gallons of raw sewage into our own ocean since 2007. This is more than any public agency in Orange or northern San Diego counties. Yes, raw sewage. The kind that kills fish, people, and little puppies.”

    Without a doubt, the Great Laguna Sewage Fiasco should be of much higher importance to LB stakeholders. Why aren’t residents (and visitors) outraged about such ongoing unhealthy ocean pollution and failed leadership? Clearly, we must vote more responsibly for environmentally respectful and accountable public officials.


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