San Diego urges judge to allow July 4 fireworks - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

San Diego urges judge to allow July 4 fireworks

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SAN DIEGO (AP) — The city urged a judge Thursday to put on hold a sweeping ruling that would subject Fourth of July fireworks shows and tens of thousands of other festivities to rigorous environmental review, saying it would deal a crushing economic blow.

Superior Court Judge Linda Quinn said she was inclined to let her ruling go into effect immediately — threatening this summer's fireworks shows — but she had second thoughts after city attorneys told her they needed time to respond to such a far-reaching judgment.

Quinn plans to decide by the end of Friday whether to put her ruling on hold for 90 days.

The Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation sued San Diego last year to force a review of a fireworks show at La Jolla Cove under the California Environmental Quality Act, but Quinn's ruling extends to tens of thousands of festivities held each year, including birthday parties and weddings in public parks.

It also covers about 400 larger events, like Sunday's Rock 'n' Roll Marathon and a Mardi Gras party in downtown's bustling Gaslamp Quarter

Deputy City Attorney Glenn Spitzer said San Diego's economy would lose tens of millions of dollars if environmental reviews are immediately required for the larger venues, known as special events.

"Tourism is one of the driving forces of the city's economy, and the special-event permitting process is the heart and soul of tourism," Spitzer told the judge. "Without that, tourism is just going to come to a grinding halt, at least a major part of it."

Marco Gonzalez, an attorney for the Encinitas-based environmental group, said he had no objections to putting the ruling on hold for all events except the La Jolla Cove fireworks show, a 27-year-old oceanfront display that draws about 20,000 spectators. His lawsuit contends that the hundreds of explosives dump chemicals in the water and threatened seals, birds and other wildlife.

The cove, in one of San Diego's wealthiest and most scenic areas, is also the subject of a long-running legal dispute about whether to allow swimmers to mix with seals.

"You're not even allowed to pick up a shell on the beach and take it home because it's so protected," Gonzalez told reporters. "You're not allowed to ride a surfboard or kayak or take a boat anywhere near the shoreline. You're only allowed to swim and dive."

The city and the show's sponsor, the La Jolla Community Fireworks Foundation, want the La Jolla show to go on without the environmental review and plan to ask California's 4th District Court of Appeal to overturn Quinn's decision.

Last week, the City Council revised San Diego's municipal code, in part, to exempt fireworks shows from special-event permits. The move backfired when Quinn took exception to new wording on park permits and also subjected them to environmental review. The city issues 20,000 to 50,000 park permits a year, including many for birthday parties and weddings.

Mayor Jerry Sanders called the ruling "crazy" and touted it as an example of government regulation run amok.

Gonzalez, a well-known environmental attorney in San Diego whose earlier targets have included SeaWorld, told reporters he has received many hateful phone calls and e-mails, some calling him unpatriotic and hurling racial epithets. He said his lawsuit never intended to target picnics, parades and birthday parties.

In his remarks to the judge, he blamed the city for failing to adequately address issues about the La Jolla show that are raised in the lawsuit.

"The city made its bed and now it doesn't want to sleep in it," he said.

Sanders and other city officials say the ruling may have consequences throughout California and even nationwide. Spitzer, the deputy city attorney, said no California cities condition park permits on reviews under CEQA, as the state's landmark 1970 environmental law is known. The vast majority also don't require environmental reviews for special events, he said.

The city gave the judge written statements from scores of charities that may be affected. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's local chapter said its fundraising activities were threatened. The organizer of San Diego's St. Patrick's Day Run said the cost of an environmental review would mean less money for a charity that helps defray medical costs for families that lack health insurance.


This is a story update. The previous story is below.


SAN DIEGO (CNS) - A judge on Thursday took under submission a request by the city of San Diego to stay an order requiring city park employees to follow state environmental guidelines when issuing permits for fireworks shows or other special events.

The May 27 ruling by Judge Linda Quinn came in a lawsuit filed by environmental attorney Marco Gonzalez against the city and organizers of the annual July 4 fireworks show at La Jolla Cove.

Environmentalists contend debris from fireworks harms sea life at a nearby marine sanctuary.

Gonzalez said the city was on notice that it had to comply with environmental regulations after last year's fireworks show at La Jolla Cove was allowed to go on.

"We just think it's unfair to allow the La Jolla show to go forward in light of the court's (original) ruling," Gonzalez said outside court.

Gonzalez said his lawsuit is not about park-use permitting that would affect events such as parades, concerts and summer events like the upcoming Rock 'n' Roll Marathon.

"We don't believe that these other events, promoters and organizers should be thrown under the bus because the city decided to gamble with their event," Gonzalez said. "We've never sought to stop the parade, we've never sought to have these permits apply to picnics and birthday parties in the parks. And I think that anyone out there who'd believe what the mayor is telling them in this regard, c'mon, let's get real, we're not that unreasonable."

Mayor Jerry Sanders went on national television Tuesday to advocate the city's right to hold Fourth of July fireworks displays, including the one at La Jolla Cove.

City Attorney Jan Goldsmith said the city of San Diego doesn't handle park-use permits any differently than other major cities.

Goldsmith said the city wouldn't be able to issue park-use permits if environmental reviews were required for each one.

"And so we would not able to issue park-use permits, it's as simple as that," the city attorney said outside court.

Quinn said she would issue a written ruling on the request for a stay of her original ruling by tomorrow.

The city may appeal if it loses, Goldsmith said.

"It shouldn't be this hard to put on a Fourth of July fireworks celebration," said Robert Howard, an attorney representing the La Jolla Community Fireworks Foundation. 

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