Fireworks groups to seek delay, compromise on new rules


By Dave Schwab

Staff Writer

An attorney representing organizers of La Jolla’s July 4th fireworks display will ask water quality board officials to delay action on rules that would increase the regulation and cost of monitoring coastal fireworks.

In response to the order issued in September, pro-fireworks groups and members of the pyrotechnics industry met Oct. 6 downtown to prepare a strategy opposing the more stringent coastal fireworks restrictions proposed in a tentative order from the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board. The board is set to make the regulations final on Nov. 10.

“I’m sending a letter asking the water board for an extension,” said Robert Howard, an attorney with the law firm of Latham & Watkins representing the La Jolla Community Fireworks Foundation, which formed in 2009 to preserve La Jolla’s fireworks display which was threatened with closure by rising costs and lagging support. “The issues are far too consequential and meaty for them to make a decision of this magnitude based on three weeks of public review.”

The water board’s tentative order would require any organization that sponsors, discharges or participates in fireworks displays over water to submit a notice of intent and pay an application fee, as well as participate in and/or execute a monitoring and reporting program outlining and implementing best management practices.

Attorney Howard and Deborah Marengo, one of the founders of the La Jolla fireworks group, was among a group of about 30 at the Oct. 6 meeting. They represented the Port of San Diego, San Diego Symphony, Del Mar Fairgrounds and the cities of Coronado and Chula Vista, among others. The meeting’s purpose was to prepare a joint defense arguing against passage of a permanent water board tentative order.

Marengo said there was a real sense of commonality — and commitment — among those at the meeting.

“We all share the same concern that our patriotic tradition will be given away,” she said. “If this order comes into place, it’s going to be virtually impossible for nonprofits to afford this layer of control over these fireworks displays.”

Joseph Bartolotta, president of Fireworks & Stage FX America, said the tentative fireworks order is an important test case.

“If this goes through in San Diego it will run through the country like a feeding frenzy,” he said. “It needs to be stopped right now.”

After the meeting, Howard said he was impressed with the consistency of the reaction “which was all negative.”

He said there’s room for compromise between pro-fireworks parties and the water board over coastal regulations.

“Hopefully, we’ll have an opportunity to sit down with the regional water board staff and outline the legal, scientific and practical considerations so we can get a lot closer to regulation that makes sense.”

Marengo agreed the water board hasn’t considered all the serious consequences of taking an action that could shut down coastal fireworks and force revelers to go inland. “The effect would be devastating on our local communities’ hotels, restaurants and retail stores for whom Fourth of July weekend is so important,” she said. “It would make it one less holiday a year that our merchants could rely on.”

The water quality board is scheduled to vote on the tentative court order at 9 a.m. Nov. 10 at its headquarters, 9174 Sky Park Court, San Diego.