by Mike Lee / SignOnSanDiego / May 31, 2011
San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders went on the offensive Tuesday with a live national interview on Fox News about July Fourth fireworks displays in the city that are up in the air after a court ruling Friday said they needed a potentially costly and time-consuming environmental review.
“People are absolutely outraged,” Sanders told the midday audience. “It’s an abuse of the laws that turned this into some type of sham.”
He also told viewers that Friday’s decision “could affect fireworks displays all over the U.S.,” including those in the nation’s capital. While many residents support the fireworks shows, others worry about the noise, garbage and pollution they generate.
Friday’s ruling by Judge Linda Quinn draws in a vast array of activities permitted by San Diego, from birthday parties in parks to events that close down streets. If it stands, lawyers said they also would need review under the California Environmental Quality Act of 1970, which is designed to minimize all sorts of ecological damage.
The biggest immediate question is whether pro-fireworks groups can get a “stay” on the case to ensure that this year’s celebrations go off as planned. Beyond that, it’s unclear what impact the ruling will have on other big events that are big tourist draws.
A spokesman for Sanders said city officials were studying the ruling and aren’t ready to offer advice to permit holders such as the organizers of this weekend’s Rock’n’Roll Marathon about how to comply with the judge’s decision.
Sanders pledged an appeal, which likely will be filed late this week. Lawyers for the La Jolla Community Fireworks Foundation said they planned to appeal Quinn’s ruling by Tuesday afternoon and they already have scheduled a Thursday hearing to ask her put on a hold on her ruling. If that fails, Robert Howard at Latham & Watkins said he would ask the appeals court to issue a stay.
Quinn’s ruling sparked national interest in what had mostly been a regional issue, with thousands of people sharing the story through Facebook and logging hundreds of comments on signonsandiego.com. The debate pits two American values — environmental protection and Independence Day festivities — against each other.
Howard said his office has been getting phone calls and emails from across the country.
“People from distant quarters are chiming in with financial support and moral support,” Howard said. “No one wants to be able to fundraise on the back of a ruling like this, but this ruling has energized folks to a point where for the first time in many years, our ability to make our $30,000 budget will not be an issue.”
As for legal clearance, that’s a different matter.
“It’s going to go right to the wire,” Howard said.
Fireworks permitting has been under scrutiny in San Diego for the past year after the Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation unsuccessfully sued to stop the 2010 Independence Day pyrotechnics in La Jolla. In May, regional water quality regulators said fireworks over water do need a permit under the Clean Water Act.
“Organizers have been told the over-water events are subject to enviro review for years. No last minute shock,” Sara Honadle, at the Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation said in a Tweet as Sanders spoke on TV.
The environmental rights foundation has been attacked repeatedly for being un-American, but lead lawyer Marco Gonzalez said the judge’s ruling proves his case is fairly rooted in law. His main concerns are related to water pollution and disturbance of coastal species.
Gonzalez, a surfer and lawyer in Encinitas, is a high-profile lawyer in the region because he’s involved with most of the big issues that involve water pollution. He’s often critical of San Diego city officials but in 2009 he supported their successful attempt to avoid what might have been a $1 billion retrofit to the city’s Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant.