A decision on whether the Port of Long Beach will continue to sponsor the annual Big Bang on the Bay or other fireworks shows will be put on hold for at least two months, after a Harbor Commission committee failed to act on a request from one of its members to stop sponsoring the event.
Harbor Commission President Sharon Weissman said her proposal to end sponsorship of the annual July 3 show came at the risk of being deemed “the Grinch of the Fourth of July,” but she said she felt compelled to ask the committee to act, given the effects of fireworks on residents, their pets and the environment.
“Fireworks are very bad for air quality. In fact, two of the worst days of the year for air quality in Southern California are July Fourth and Fifth,” Weissman said during Monday morning’s meeting of the commission’s Sponsorship Committee.
While Long Beach has a ban on fireworks use and recently increased penalties for people possessing or using fireworks in the city, professional shows like Big Bang on the Bay are allowed.
The popular show launches fireworks off a barge in Alamitos Bay near Boathouse on the Bay as part of a day-long event that concludes with 30 minutes of fireworks. Weissman said the decision to end the sponsorship would be one of the more difficult decisions the body might make, but she said she doubted it would stop the event from continuing.
“I’m not naive enough to believe that if we don’t spend $20,000 on advertising on Big Bang on the Bay that the event isn’t going to happen,” Weissman said. “I believe that it will.”
In 2022, the port’s sponsorship of the event was $3,500, according to a port spokesperson.
The first show was held in 2011, and it has served as a fundraiser for Children Today, a charity that provides trauma-informed child development and family support services. Weissman’s motion included a provision to let beneficiaries of the fireworks show apply directly to the port for future sponsorships.
Other commissioners were not convinced that the port should end its sponsorship of the annual event. While some supported eventually transitioning to a laser or other alternative show in the future, they were not willing to end the sponsorship of the show this year.
The committee voted unanimously, with Weissman casting a “reluctant aye,” to continue the discussion in two months after Weissman was unable to gain enough support from other members to move forward with it.
Commissioner Bobby Olvera said he was hesitant to start making sponsorship decisions on whether an event has an environmental impact, noting that other events the port sponsors have barbecues and food truck operations.
Commissioner Frank Colonna pointed to other fireworks shows in the area and the thousands of flights that happen every day that put other pollutants into the air, adding that the commission should stay focused on its mission to make port operations cleaner.
The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach adopted a Clean Air Action Plan in 2017 that includes a goal of reaching zero emissions by 2035.
“I think our responsibility is the responsibility that we operate a clean port, and we do the best we can to green what we can and encourage the folks we do business with to do the best they can in terms of protecting the environment,” Colonna said.
The future of the show, though, could actually be in question regardless of whether the port continues its sponsorship.
A federal trial is underway that is slated to determine whether the Big Bang show has been illegally polluting Alamitos Bay for over a decade, something an environmental group claimed in a civil lawsuit filed against the show’s organizer in November 2021.
The suit claims that John Morris, who owns Boathouse on the Bay, failed to obtain proper permits to carry out the show each year.
The Clean Water Act that was adopted by Congress in 1972 forbids the use of certain types of pollutants without first obtaining a National Pollution Discharge Elimination Permit first, and the trial will decide whether Big Bang on the Bay is in compliance with that aspect of the law. Morris previously told the Post that he has obtained all the proper permits to put on the annual show.
“I think it’s critical that we wait and see what the judge in this lawsuit is going to hand down,” said Commissioner Bonnie Lowenthal.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify the cost of the sponsorship for the Port of Long Beach.