Squid Speaks

Cats and Monkeys (and Fireworks)…Squid loves a good excuse to idle away the hours reading magazines on a chaise lounge and sipping margaritas all day, and gets unfortunately few of those during Monterey Bay summers, what with the May Gray, June Gloom and Fog-gust conditions. This weekend was a welcome exception that had Squid appreciating classic summer stuff.

And it got Squid thinking fondly ahead to the Fourth of July, one of Squid’s favorite holidays: a day for cookouts, lounging and patriotism (Squid is a proud and fierce fan of the Constitution, particularly the First Amendment—plus red, white and blue look good on Squid’s translucent complexion). It’s also a day for fireworks, and while Squid’s beloved bulldog, Rosco P. Contrane, spends a good hunk of the day shaking under the bed, Squid loves a good fireworks show.

So Squid thinks the city of Seaside should be commended for stepping up in 2018 to fill the years-long void of no official fireworks show on the Monterey Peninsula. There was a huge turnout of happy families and a truly epic show at Bayonet and Black Horse, on top of the hill. The city is back this year, with plans for a different location, at a section of Laguna Grande Park owned by the Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District.

The plan calls for a 20-minute fireworks display around dusk, and a temporary fireworks staging area and surrounding safety equipment to be removed on July 5. The vision calls for blocking off part of Canyon Del Rey to traffic and parking vendors and food trucks—the makings of a fun, family-friendly fireworks show on the Seaside City Hall lawn, also visible from Monterey and Del Rey Oaks. It’s alcohol-free, includes live music, pony rides and a rock climbing wall.

Because it calls for even one-day changes to a public park in the coastal zone, the plan requires a coastal development permit, which the Seaside Planning Commission happily approved with a vote 6-0 on May 8. Seemed to Squid like a done deal, and something even fireworks haters could get behind; the hope is that with a legit city-sponsored show, less people would be motivated to set off their own illegal fireworks for a bang throughout town.

But then Squid got an education in the art of how to file an appeal, Cat in the Hat-style. Neighbors on the Monterey side of Laguna Grande hadn’t known about the May 8 Planning Commission meeting in Seaside, and when they learned about the vote a month later, they were not happy. There wouldn’t be enough bathrooms or enough parking, they’re be trash left on Monterey’s side without plans to clean it up, and they envisioned the crowds spilling over into their yards. There was a great blue heron who’d recently taken up residence in the trees, and the fireworks show seemed likely to scare it away for good.

Neighbors reached out to California Coastal Commission planner Alexandra McCoy, just as the 30-day appeal window was closing, with their concerns. 

"Will Seaside be paying for the cleanup on the Monterey side that is ALWAYS huge on holiday weekends and events or is Seaside expecting our parks staff to like taxing our PD after they put in a full day, including overtime, a day-long event at Monterey City Hall that draws thousands there?" Esther Malkin wrote.

Residents asked McCoy for advice on how to fight back and file an appeal, and in an email on June 3, she emailed a group of residents with some guidance on crafting the legalese:

“Essentially, in order to voice your opinion regarding why you think this event should not happen, an appellant is required to make the case of what proposed activities conflict with our environmental regulations. A hypothetical example could read; Local cat policy A.B.C states that cats in hats are not permitted within 50 ft of the fence. The proposed event includes dogs, cats, and monkeys less than 50 ft of the fence. Therefore, the event as proposed is in conflict with the local cat program policies. In context of real policies and the fireworks event, it could read; Policy X.Y.Z states that no development will occur within X ft of ESHA. The proposed event includes fireworks staging x ft from ESHA, which is less than the X ft minimum. Therefore, the event has proposed is in conflict with the local coastal program.”

Wha? Squid knows there’s a heron living in Laguna Grande, but maybe monkeys have taken up residence too.

Anyway, the guidance worked—kinda. Two groups of neighbors filed appeals with the Coastal Commission. Before officials there could even get into the substance of the concerns (parking, noise, effects on nesting birds, etc.) they decided there was a problem: Seaside’s local coastal plan requires the city to notify residents within 300 feet, which in this case would’ve included Monterey-side residents.

“Typically we require the appellant has made their concerns known at the local level,” Coastal Commission Central Coast District Manager Susan Craig tells Squid's colleague. “In this case, though, we determined there was a noticing problem.”

Next comes a timing problem—and maybe a Cat in the Hat-style intro to local government? On June 7, the Coastal Commission notified the city of the noticing problem. The permit is in limbo until the Coastal Commission can rule and suss out the substance of the appeal—are the impacts so severe the city can’t do a fireworks show at Laguna Grande?—but the Coastal Commission’s next meeting is this week, June 12-14, without enough time for analysis of the issues. Then it’s July 4—meaning no chance for the commission to vote on the merits of the appeal before the scheduled show.

“We’re not the Grinch that hates the Fourth of July at all,” says Monterey resident Susi Allen. “It’s one of my favorite holidays. I like fireworks too, but there are considerations that have to be given.”

There’s nothing more American than apple pie, fireworks, and a good local government battle. It leaves the city in a last-minute search for a Plan B location, with a meeting today of the city’s event committee and the pyrotechnic vendor. Tomorrow (Tuesday, June 11at 5:30pm) they’ll meet for a special City Council meeting to talk about potential alternatives.

Squid expects no cats, dogs or monkeys, but Squid does expect fireworks.

Maybe this conflict is really an exercise in patriotic duty—the First Amendment guarantees the right "to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

It also grants the right of peaceable assembly, with or without the pyrotechnics. 

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