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    Laguna Beach’s first drone show delights some, others miss blasts and tradition
    • July 5, 2024

    An inaugural drone show that replaced decades of exploding splendor from pyrotechnics is getting mixed reviews a day after its debut, city officials said.

    The 300 drones were staged on the Laguna Beach Lawn Bowling Club greens, ready to launch for the city’s Fourth of July festivities. At 9 p.m., they lifted off, piloted by an FAA-certified operator with help from a computerized program that coordinated their movements in the sky over Heisler Park and the ocean for 15 minutes. Synchronized to music on the local radio stations, the show included patriotic images, such as the American flag, and iconic Laguna Beach images, such as the lifeguard tower at Main Beach.

    Drones form a surfer during the city’s July 4th celebration in Laguna Beach, CA on Thursday, July 4, 2024. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Drones form an Olympic message during the city’s July 4th celebration in Laguna Beach, CA on Thursday, July 4, 2024. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Drones the Main Beach lifeguard tower during the city’s July 4th celebration in Laguna Beach, CA on Thursday, July 4, 2024. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Workers with Open Sky Drone Light Shows arrange 300 drones for takeoff for the city’s July 4th celebration in Laguna Beach, CA on Thursday, July 4, 2024. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Workers with Open Sky Drone Light Shows arrange 300 drones for takeoff for the city’s July 4th celebration in Laguna Beach, CA on Thursday, July 4, 2024. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Workers with Open Sky Drone Light Shows placed 300 drones for takeoff for the city’s July 4th celebration in Laguna Beach, CA on Thursday, July 4, 2024. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Drones form a message in the sky during the city’s July 4th celebration in Laguna Beach, CA on Thursday, July 4, 2024. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Drones form a peace sign during the city’s July 4th celebration in Laguna Beach, CA on Thursday, July 4, 2024. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Drones form a message in the sky during the city’s July 4th celebration in Laguna Beach, CA on Thursday, July 4, 2024. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Drones form a surfer during the city’s July 4th celebration in Laguna Beach, CA on Thursday, July 4, 2024. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Drones form the Olympic rings during the city’s July 4th celebration in Laguna Beach, CA on Thursday, July 4, 2024. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)

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    “Everyone sitting around me seemed to like it,” said Laguna Beach Mayor Sue Kempf, who was at Las Brisas, a restaurant close to where the drones lifted off. “They did some cute images. But, unless you were tuned in to the radio station, it was quiet.”

    Kempf said she and the city manager had heard positive feedback on Friday, as well as from residents who were not so happy.

    “Some people said they couldn’t see it, and some didn’t like that there were no booms,” she said, adding that the drones were visible for miles, but, in some locations, they were obscured by the coast’s natural geography.

    Patsee Ober, a local photographer who lives about two miles from where the drones rose, was perched on the Oak Street viewing platform and got some great shots, she said.

    She appreciated the drones’ environmental benefits, but thought the show was “a little bit anti-climatic, small, and kind of corny.”

    “They have a lot of work to do if they want to bring it back,” she added.

    Monica Prado, a longtime resident who lives in Laguna Canyon, said she and her family decided to head into town rather than hiking up a trial where, in the past, they’ve been able to catch glimpses of Laguna Beach’s fireworks, along with those from other cities along the coast.

    “I’d never seen a drone show, so I didn’t know what to expect,” she said, adding that she and her group walked down one of the paths at the park to get away from the crowds. “I was thoroughly enchanted. I thought it was wonderful. It was 15 minutes and didn’t need to be longer.”

    Kempf agreed that the show seemed less dynamic and spectacular than fireworks, partly because there was lag time as the drones flew into place to form their images.

    “Even though the fireworks show is only five minutes longer, it seems much longer,” Kempf said. “It takes a while to form the images, and with the fireworks, there is no gap.”

    The show cost the city $75,000 compared to $45,000 for the usual pyrotechnics.

    Considering a drone show was prompted this year by the city’s Environmental and Sustainability Committee, and when the City Council approved the change, councilmembers said it was a way to be “more forward-thinking” and to have less impact on pets and local wildlife, to avoid smoke and to have a celebration that was more accommodating of veterans who may be sensitive to the loud booms and blasts.

    “It was an innovative way to celebrate the 4th of July,” said Mike Beanan, a co-founder of the Laguna Bluebelt Coalition, complementing the council for its environmental awareness. He said he could see the drones from his home about 4 miles away.

    “From reducing air and ocean pollution to protecting sea life and local dogs from fireworks explosions, the drone show is a step forward in matching Laguna’s environmental commitments,” Beanan said. “For many combat veterans like myself, the light show is likely superior to turning the coast into a war zone.”

    Those yearning for the booms and blasts could catch glimpses of other fireworks shows along the coastline from Newport Beach, Huntington Beach and even Long Beach, all in the backdrop of the drone show.

    “It was a great juxtaposition,” Ober said, “Seeing the clean drone show and the smoke-filled air from the fireworks.”

    On a local Facebook page, other residents weighed in, with some agreeing they were happy not seeing animals and veterans in distress. In contrast, others weren’t impressed and complained that the city spent more money on a show lacking tradition and flair.

    One person criticized it for having “logos in the sky,” a reference to a “City of Laguna Beach” image; another person compared it to watching a “Windows screensaver from 1997; ” another person called it “non-celebratory;” and one other said it was a “marketing ploy.”

    Kempf said she agreed the city image wasn’t necessary and wouldn’t be repeated if the drones appear again next Fourth of July.

    However, that decision will be made with community input and follow-up on this year’s show, she said.

    “I thought it was good,” she said, “but we’ll see what the community thinks.”

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