Stricter regulations for coastal fireworks may not apply to La Jolla

Fireworks went on in 2010 despite a lawsuit. Photo: Brittany Comunale
Fireworks went on in 2010 despite a lawsuit. Photo: Brittany Comunale

By Dave Schwab

Staff Writer

The show can — and likely will — go on again this year for the annual Independence Day Fireworks display at La Jolla Cove.

One major impediment imperiling the show, put on for the past two years by the nonprofit La Jolla Community Fireworks Foundation, may have been cleared by a recent revision of a tentative order from the San Diego Water Quality Control Board.

Even as they await the final decision, the foundation on Friday began tackling another obstacle — raising the funds to put the show on. Deborah Marengo, who heads the group, said all systems are go to launch another communitywide drive to pay for the event again this year. But she added this year’s display will be scaled back.

“Last year it cost about $40,000 but we had a bigger event with the Marine Corps Band and all the staging and lighting and audio that went along with it,” she said, noting this year’s more-manageable event will likely cost about $25,000.

“That’s what we need to raise and this year I’m setting a June 1 deadline,” Marengo said. “If we don’t have all the money secured by that point, I will most likely be canceling the show.”

On Friday, she e-mailed past supporters asking them to participate again. In an interview, she said she was hopeful those who say they will contribute will follow through with donations, which some did not do last year.

The 2010 Fourth of July event, the community's 26th, was nearly stopped in its tracks when a lawsuit was filed over the permitting requirements.

Originally, the water quality board had proposed increasing permitting requirements and monitoring costs for coastal fireworks displays, in apparent response to the lawsuit. But the board’s revision now calls for exempting small displays, like La Jolla’s, from tighter regulation. It will be considered again on May 11. The board meeting begins at 9 a.m. the regional office at 9174 Sky Park Court in Kearny Mesa.

“The original version of the tentative order would have required that any group doing fireworks be required to do monitoring of both water and sediment,” wrote Clif Williams, land use analyst for the law firm of Latham & Watkins, which has been representing the fireworks foundation.

In an e-mail to the Light, he also stated: “This would have made the show cost prohibitive, because the monitoring would have cost upwards of $50,000 while the show costs less than $30,000 to put on.”

Williams said the revised and final tentative order will only apply to the monitoring requirements to shows that shoot fireworks with a net explosives weight of more than 1,000 pounds.

“We estimate that the La Jolla show is a little less than 400 pounds,” Williams said, adding the revised permit will affect big shows like SeaWorld and the Big Bay Show, which were already required to do it.

Attorney Marco Gonzalez of the Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation (CERF), an environmental group dedicated to protecting coastal natural resources, has been lobbying for stricter regulation of fireworks over water. He argues caution should be exercised given that not enough is known or understood about the impact of fireworks on the environment.

Gonzalez filed the 2010 lawsuit against the city of San Diego and the La Jolla fireworks foundation, insisting they failed to comply with CEQA and other environmental laws in conducting fireworks shows over water. Last June, just days before July 4th, a San Diego judge rejected CERF's request to halt the event.

Regarding the recent revision water quality control board's rules, Gonzalez e-mailed, “I have nothing to say about the current draft of the Regional Board’s fireworks permit. I’ll be more than happy to discuss it when we’re closer to the hearing date. There’s nothing newsworthy about it at this point.”

To contribute to the La Jolla Community Fireworks Foundation fund go to




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