Council to consider rules that could end fireworks battle

By James R. Riffel

City News Service

Proposed clarifications to the municipal code section on granting permits to fireworks shows could end a legal battle with environmentalists, the City Attorney’s Office said Thursday.

The amendments to the code will be considered by the City Council next Tuesday.

The city is appealing a judge’s ruling that almost put some July 4 pyrotechnics displays out of business. Superior Court Judge Linda Quinn sided with environmental lawyer Marco Gonzalez, who contended that the city’s practice of routinely giving out permits to the organizers of the shows conflicted with the municipal code, which calls for individual scrutiny of park use permits — including costly environmental reviews.

According to City Attorney’s spokeswoman Gina Coburn, the proposed changes to the code will make permits for Independence Day fireworks shows at La Jolla Cove, Mission Bay and Ocean Beach routine or, in city parlance, ministerial.’'

We believe the municipal code clarifications will moot the controversy and thereby make the (court) case moot,’' Coburn wrote in an e-mail to City News Service.

Gonzalez believes debris from airborne explosions over coastal waters harms marine life. The fireworks show discussed the most in the case was the one at La Jolla Cove, which is adjacent to a marine sanctuary.

The judge did not base her ruling on environmental factors, but on city officials not following their municipal code.

To give the officials a chance to figure out how to implement her order, she stayed her ruling, allowing this year’s shows to go on.

Organizers of the displays said they would go out of business without ministerial permits because they could not afford annual environmental reviews.

The city estimates such studies, required for park use permit applicants deemed to be non-ministerial, would cost about $15,000.

The proposed amendments also codify a summertime moratorium on events at Balboa Park, Mission Bay Park and parks along the shoreline other than named annual events, including:

• the Pride Festival,

• Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon,

• AFC Half-Marathon,

• Over-the-Line,

• the Ocean Beach Street festival, and several smaller events.