La Jolla fireworks organizers vow to carry on despite court ruling

The crowd watches fireworks at La Jolla Cove in 2010. Photo: Brittany Comunale
The crowd watches fireworks at La Jolla Cove in 2010. Photo: Brittany Comunale

By James R. Riffel

City News Service

An attorney for the sponsors of the July 4 fireworks at La Jolla Cove vowed Friday the event will continue after a judge affirmed her previous ruling that the city is bound by state environmental laws when issuing permits for pyrotechnic displays.

"We're not going to go away,'' said Robert Howard, an attorney for the show's organizers after the ruling by Superior Court Judge Linda Quinn. "We want the fireworks to continue —we want the tradition to continue.''

Environmentalists sued the firework shows' organizers and the city, contending the permitting process failed to follow the guidelines of the California Environmental Quality Act. They said the fireworks are shot off next to a marine sanctuary, generating debris that harms sea life.

The ruling potentially means that all organizers of fireworks shows in San Diego will have to file environmental impact reports before receiving city permits. Because of the costs involved, that could put the shows out of business.

"That's never been our intention,'' environmental lawyer Marco Gonzalez said after the hearing. But he added that there are a few shows in environmentally sensitive areas that concern him, and La Jolla tops the list.

"I don't think La Jolla (Cove fireworks) should happen this year — or ever,'' Gonzalez said.

Howard said his group will decide whether to seek an emergency stay of the judge's order, or file an appeal so that this year's event can go on this July 4.

The group will file for a permit from the city, but Friday's ruling means its issuance could be challenged, he said.

Meanwhile, following the hearing, Alex Roth, a spokesman for Mayor Jerry Sanders, issued a statement about today’s court ruling in Marco Gonzalez’s legal battle against July 4th fireworks:

“Marco Gonzalez’s bizarre crusade to stop fireworks on the 4th of July is truly shameless, especially considering he’s also seeking hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to cover his legal fees. What’s next, a lawsuit against swimmers for polluting the ocean with their suntan lotion?”

The arguments in the case did not involve environmental issues, but rather the city's permitting process and how it conforms to the law.

Special event permits do not automatically have to follow the California Environmental Quality Act, but others do. According to Gonzalez, as affirmed by Quinn, special event permitting by the city is discretionary as defined by its own municipal code, making it subject to environmental laws.

Glenn Spitzer, a lawyer for the city, said the Parks and Recreation Department issues tens of thousands permits annually for events at 350 parks ranging from fireworks to birthday parties with bounce houses. The volume of applications requires the city to keep the process simple, he said.

The City Council on Tuesday exempted private sponsors of fireworks shows from having to apply for permits under certain conditions.

Several City Council members said Tuesday they believe environmental concerns over fireworks were addressed by recently adopted regulations by the state Regional Water Quality Control Board, which requires organizers to file for annual permits and prove they have cleaned up debris.

Before the court hearing, Gonzalez filed a lawsuit challenging the council's action.

   
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