By Dave Schwab
A recent modification to rules that stand to exempt coastal fireworks displays like La Jolla’s from stricter and more costly environmental monitoring comes as heartening news to event organizers who have started fundraising for the La Jolla Cove event.
But the Jewel’s pyrotechnic extravaganza is not out of the legal thicket yet, as a lawsuit filed by environmental attorney Marco Gonzalez who wants to require La Jolla Cove’s annual fireworks display to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is pending.
The San Diego Water Quality Control Board recently issued a tentative order exempting small-scale, one-time fireworks displays from the proposed rules. Meanwhile, Diane Harkey, the Dana Point assemblywoman whose district includes parts of North San Diego County, has introduced AB206. Her legislation would exempt municipal firework shows from the California Environment Quality Act and California Coastal Act.
“The regional board’s revised proposed ordinance limits monitoring requirements of sediment testing to the biggest fireworks displays — SeaWorld’s and those over San Diego and Mission bays that exceed 1,000 pounds, the threshold for a fairly sizable display,” said Robert Howard, an attorney with Latham & Watkins who represents La Jolla Community Fireworks Foundation, a nonprofit formed in 2009.
“The regional board has gone through the scientific evidence and determined that once-a-year fireworks displays do not create a significant environmental problem," he added.
The order, as originally proposed, would require the sponsor of any fireworks display over water to submit a notice of intent, pay an application fee and participate in or execute a monitoring and reporting plan.
Reacting to the regional board’s revision of its tentative order, attorney Gonzalez said, “Regardless of how watered down that permit process becomes, we’ve accomplished our goal of getting a regulatory process in place.”
He also said he doesn't "know that what’s been proposed by the regional board in its revised tentative order is legal.”
In 2010, Gonzalez filed a lawsuit against the city of San Diego, the La Jolla Community Fireworks Foundation and Promote La Jolla, alleging fireworks would harm sensitive coastal resources in La Jolla and that the coastal display needed to comply with CEQA. Promote La Jolla was recently dropped from the lawsuit.
In late June 2010, Judge Linda B. Quinn denied a temporary restraining order sought by Gonzalez that would have blocked the La Jolla Fourth of July event.
“Our lawsuit would require CEQA law to apply to that (La Jolla) show, which hasn’t been subject to any environmental review,” Gonzalez said, adding CEQA requires an initial environmental study of fireworks be done before determining whether a full-blown environmental impact report would be required.
“Our goal is to get a greater understanding of what the impacts are from these fireworks shows … So we can decide whether we need more (environmental) regulation or less,” said Gonzalez.
Deborah Marengo, a boardmember of La Jolla Community Fireworks Foundation, formed after La Jolla restaurateur George Hauer ceased hosting the event after 24 years due to rising costs and lagging support, said the nonprofit has already begun fundraising on its website,