June 10th 2008
“[Our Country's] foundign ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, gaves, sports, guns, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this moment forward forever more.”
Don’t tell the staff of the California Coastal Commission, which is working diligently to forbid fireworks shows on this particular end of the continent.
Tomorrow, at its meeting in Santa Rosa County, the Commission will consider a staff-issued Cease and Desist order against the tiny northern California coastal town of Gualala, which celebrates the Gualala Patriot Day festival, complete with a 10-minute fireworks show.
Note: The hearing will be webcast live! Log onto the Coastal Commission Web site and follow the link on the home page.
As the Commission’s agenda puts it:
13. Commission Cease and Desist Order No. CCC-08-CD-07 (Gualala Festivals Committee, Gualala, Mendocino County.) Public hearing and Commission action on proposed Cease and Desist Order directing the Gualala Festivals Committee to cease and desist from undertaking or threatening to undertake development without the necessary coastal development permit, including, but not limited to, conducting a fireworks display over the Gualala River estuary or 39170 South Highway One, Gualala, Mendocino County (APN 145-261-12) (NC-SF)
“Development” is a strange way to refer to a fireworks show, eh? That’s because to wring a fireworks ban out of the California Coastal Act, the Commission would have to call the show “development.” Staff is up for the challenge:
The unpermitted activity includes the placement of solid material on land [temporary fireworks launchers] and the discharge of gaseous and solid waste into coastal waters and constitutes an change of intensity of use of both land and water or access thereto, and therefore constitutes “development” as defined in Section 30106 of the Coastal Act, as discussed fully herein.
Note that in the Commission’s view, not only this tiny, temporary impact “development,” and therefore illegal, just “threatening” to do it is illegal as well. Apparently the 1st Amendment has been suspended in California’s Coastal zone.
Why does the Commission staff have its biodegradable panties in a knot over a ten-minute fireworks show in sleepy Gualala? First, because the Commission is chartered to protect public access to California’s public beaches (that would be every single beach from Oregon to Mexico), so:
… the launching of fireworks will temporarily disrupt public access to and along the Gualala Bluff Trail prior to and during the fireworks display by closing a portion of the Gualala Bluff Trail to the public.
Never mind that it’s at night, when people aren’t really safe walking coastal bluff trails. Never mind that the Gualala Patriot Days celebration attracts hundreds of people to the coast, thereby syncing up with the Commission’s charter.
Also, attached to the staff report is a 47-page report from the federal Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service with the snappy title, Seabird and Marine Mammal Monitoring and Response to a Fireworks Display at Gualala Point Island, Sonoma County, California, May to August 2007.
Yes, the full authority of the federal government — bolstered by your tax dollars, a portion of which actually went to fund this monstrosity of a study — is behind Coastal staff’s efforts to quash firework displays on the California coast.
Using the report, staff argues that:
The fireworks will affect environmentally sensitive habitat and marine and water resources. The Gualala River Estuary is a breeding ground for threatened Coho salmon and steelhead trout as well as other local fish.
The report monitors birds, not fish, and presents no evidence that fish or fish breeding was affected by the fireworks display. Salmon migrate during daylight hours anyway. I imagine trout follow suit, or trout fishing would be a night-time sport.
Then the report turns to the ospreys, great blue herons, egrets, and river otters that fish in the river and its estuary, and the marbled murrelets, and endangered species, live in the area. None of these is nocturnal.
It then brings up the Pacific Flyway, saying the Gualala Estuary provides an essential habitat for feeding, perching and nesting. Except that in July, there isn’t any traffic along the flyway — migration occurs in the spring and fall.
Undaunted, Coastal staff soldiers on:
As discussed more fully herein, a similar fireworks display occurred in approximately the same location last year and had a demonstrated adverse effect on the nesting birds, including most likely causing actual nest abandonment and consumption of abandoned eggs and/or juvenile chicks by predators, a permanent impact …. (emphasis added)
The nests and eggs in question were not those of any endangered species, so the Commission has no authority to regulate them. Even if some juveniles of plentiful bird species got eaten as a result of fireworks, I say, it was for a good cause. Look at Google Maps, and you’ll see that Gualala is a tiny speck against the vast emptiness of the California coast, so any impact its fireworks might have would be minuscule in the scheme of things.
But that didn’t stop the mighty federal government from trying against all odds to prove an impact, with agents crawling around Gualala’s rocky shores, armed with digiscoped and infrared cameras. Their report:
… Brandt’s Cormorants quickly changed from resting to erect postures at the first fireworks, followed by birds moving about or departing the island. Western Gulls also flushed, circled and called during the fireworks display.
The horror! The report then says that of 90 cormorant nests, seven were abandoned between July 5 and 7, with some additional abandonments following … all “likely” resulting from “fireworks disturbances.” I asked a biologist friend about this, and after pointing out that Brandt’s cormorants are not a listed species, he said that amount of nest abandonment did not seem unusually high.
So, armed with a “likely” and a “most likely,” the Army of Gaea is assaulting a great American tradition as it is played out in a quaint, remote coastal California town. It’s part of an assault on fireworks shows that has consumed the Commission staff for years, but thus far, the Commission has corralled their staff’s shameless attempts to destroy a great, patriotic American tradition exuberance.
The Pacific Legal Foundation is standing poised and ready to fight, and the Festival’s attorney, Keith Faulder, filed an impressive brief, which is included in the staff report, starting on page 56. Faulder is not above a jibe or two:
The citizens of Gualala love their small community, their river, and their coast. The people of Gualala, as rugged and independent as the land in which they live, have been taking care of their community and their environment since the 1860′s, with very little help during that time from any county, state or federal agencies.
This is truly the case of the little, freedom-loving guy up against the freedom-crushing power of a PC, Greenie bureaucracy that answers to no one and is, therefore, running amok.
Tomorrow’s hearing promises to be spirited. Remember, you can follow the progress on line by logging onto the Coastal Commission Web site and following the webcast links at the top of the page. The session starts at 10 a.m. Pacific time, so my guess is the Gualala cease and desist order will come up around lunch time … but don’t hold me to that.
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