Fourth fireworks could be delayed again in 2011


By Dave Schwab

Staff Writer

La Jolla’s annual Fourth of July fireworks display could come under fire once again, as a tentative order by the San Diego Water Quality Control Board (SDWQCB) increasing permitting and monitoring costs for coastal displays could greatly increase the costs.

Order No. R9-2010-0124 would require the sponsor of any fireworks display to submit a notice of intent, pay an application fee, and participate in or execute a monitoring and reporting plan.

The SDWQCB order, to be voted on Nov. 10 at a public hearing, could be an event breaker, said Deborah Marengo, a board member of the La Jolla Community Fireworks Foundation, a nonprofit formed in 2009 when La Jolla fireworks, held consecutively for 24 years spearheaded by La Jolla restaurateur George Hauer, were threatened with closure by rising costs and lagging support.

“What it does is it now requires all volunteer organizations or community groups sponsoring fireworks displays over bodies of water to go through expensive permitting, and different levels of monitoring and water testing — a whole other level of expense,” Marengo said. “That will probably render a lot of organizations really unable to fund that type of expense.”

In response to the SDWQCB tentative order, pro-fireworks groups and members of the pyrotechnics industry called a meeting in downtown San Diego Oct. 6 to prepare a united strategy in opposing more stringent coastal fireworks restrictions.

At the end of June 2010, Judge Linda B. Quinn denied a temporary restraining order that would have blocked the La Jolla Fourth of July event. That action was filed by attorney Marco Gonzalez representing CERF, an environmental group dedicated to the protection of coastal natural resources, against the city of San Diego, the La Jolla Community Fireworks Foundation and Promote La Jolla.

The suit alleged fireworks would harm sensitive coastal resources in La Jolla and that groups sponsoring fireworks displays needed to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) prior to event approval, but didn’t. It also charged that event promoters were remiss in applying for a coastal development permit and that significant impacts to the environment and traffic caused by the event ought to be considered in an environmental impact report.

Judge Quinn ruled there was insufficient evidence to support the claim of irreparable environmental harm, adding she believed the fireworks display did not require a coastal development permit as claimed by the petitioners.

Reacting to the latest SDWQCB tentative ruling tightening coastal fireworks display restrictions, Gonzalez said the new order “establishes best management practices for displays on or near the water for handling materials and the clean up of waste, as well as monitoring both surface water and (floor) sediments to make sure chemicals are not harming the environment: That is the critical piece we’ve been looking for.”

David Koontz, director of communications for Sea World, which hosts fireworks displays between 100 and 120 days a year and has had a permitting and monitoring program in place for its fireworks similar to the one being asked for in the new SDWQCB tentative order, said the marine park has had a third-party monitoring water conditions in Mission Bay for several years.