After the show: Court actions still tangling up fireworks organizers

Fireworks from this year's event in La Jolla. File photo
Fireworks from this year's event in La Jolla. File photo

By Kathy Day

kday@lajollalight.com

As the final bills straggle in for the July 4th fireworks, the La Jolla Community Fireworks Foundation director coordinating the effort says they still face court dates that could determine the program’s fate.

Just last week, they got the report about the post-event cleanup required as a condition of their $1,452 permit from the Regional Water Quality Control Board, said Deborah Marengo, who has been one of the leaders of the fireworks group since 2009 when George Hauer decided to give up his 24-year role of putting on the show.

A total of 21 pounds of pyrotechnic debris was collected after the show — 13 pounds of which were dry and 8 pounds, wet — she said last week, adding that’s just one matter they’re dealing with.

The group is due in court Aug. 31 to review Judge Linda Quinn’s 90-day stay of her ruling that the city must follow state environmental laws when issuing permits for fireworks shows and other special events. The decision came in a lawsuit filed by environmental lawyer Marco Gonzalez.

He represents the Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation in the case against the fireworks organizers and the city, which approved municipal code changes that exempt private sponsors of fireworks shows on city-owned property from having to apply for special permits. The case alleges debris from the airborne explosions harms sea life at the nearby marine sanctuary.

“We have Judge Quinn’s ruling saying we lost the lawsuit, but she granted the stay so we could do the show this year,” Marengo said.

Although plans are in the works to appeal the ruling, and “there may not be a 2012 show if we don’t win,” she added, noting “the cost for conducting an (environmental impact report) is estimated at $120,000. … That will virtually stop every kind of event in public parks if he prevails.”

On top of that, on July 5, the fireworks foundation was served with an appeal asking the state Water Quality Control Board to revoke the regional permits.

Meanwhile, Marengo is tallying the final contributions and expenses — and awaiting some late invoices — for the event that she said would cost about $28,000. She said before the event that she had commitments for donations totaling $27,900. Some are still coming in and if they receive more than was needed, it will stay in the foundation’s account at First Republic Bank.

The foundation’s website identifies the group as “a nonprofit corporation, currently seeking 501(c)(3) tax exempt status. Your donation is tax deductible to the extent allowed by law.”

Marengo said they “filed the initial paperwork, but then, with the lawsuit, we were not sure about whether there would even be a show” so they didn’t move forward.

“We’ve had two years of non-stop uncertainty,” she said. “Raising money is one thing; the uncertainty is something else.”

Adam Harris, who with Marengo organized the foundation — which is registered as a California public benefit corporation with the state attorney general’s office — said they just put the filing on hold until they find out what’s next.

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