La Jolla Fireworks: A Legal Dud?

The July 4th fireworks show at La Jolla Cove is at high risk of fizzling out by way of a legal ruling.

Its backers and city lawyers went to court Thursday, lobbying to save it.

Unless Judge Linda Quinn changes her mind overnight, the case will go from Superior Court on Broadway to the state Appeals Court on "B" Street.

Environmental activists are willing to let all the concerned parties off the legal hook -- except for the La Jolla Community Fireworks Foundation.

"The notion that we can't celebrate the 4th of July without the fireworks show in La Jolla is absurd," says attorney Marco Gonzalez, representing the Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation, which is challenging the fireworks show.

"The city did this, not us," Gonzalez told reporters following an hour-long morning hearing in Quinn's courtroom at the Hall of Justice downtown. "The City Council wrote the code, not us. The court interpreted this. We were right."

'The court' to which Gonzalez referred is Judge Quinn, who last week ruled that a newly adopted Municipal Code section requires environmental reviews of special-event and park-use permits.

San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith, appearing before the judge, said the new regulations were meant to make the annual issuance of thousands of routine park-use permits a simple ministerial act, with a higher level of standards for special-use permits.

However, he acknowledged, the actual language had the opposite effect, instead rendering the process "discretionary" -- and thus subject to reviews required by the California Environmental Quality Act.

Deputy City Atty. Gleen Spitzer argued that thousands of families and community groups who annually apply for permits, plus the tourism industry, would suffer the consequences.

"This is a signicant blow to San Diego's economy," he told the judge.

Said Goldsmith in post-hearing remarks to reporters: "Every good landscaper sometimes backs into a hornet's nest. Maybe we can work this out."

Gonzalez, meantime, told Quinn that the Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation has no interest in requiring costly, time-consuming environmental impact reports on picnics, parades, weddings, and so forth.

Just the La Jolla fireworks show at the Cove, because a quarter-ton of chemical-laden pyrotechnics are launched over a protected marine sanctuary.

"We're not going to back down," Gonzalez says. "We've won our lawsuit. If the city chooses to appeal and chooses to waste more taxpayer dollars chasing its tail, we'll be there to oppose them."

Added former city councilwoman Donna Frye, a longtime clean-water activist: "It would be nice to know, first of all, what the environmental impacts are ... Let's allow the public to at least have the discussion -- and that's what we have not had."

The show's sponsors insist the annual extravaganza poses no real threats.

"The experts have already decided the issue," says attorney Robert Howard, representing the La Jolla Community Fireworks Foundation. "State of California water quality control experts looked at all the science and determined as to this particular event in La Jolla, it doesn't create any environmental impacts. So it's entitled to go forward."

The judge will rule tomorrow on whether to 'stay' the environmental review order for 90 days, to let the city fix the problems with park-use and special-event permits besides the La Jolla show.

Groups that already have permits -- such as this week's Rock 'n' Roll Marathon -- are believed to be 'grandfathered in.'

The city's new rule going forward technically wouldn't take effect until June 23.

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