SAN DIEGO (CN) – Environmentalists are fighting San Diego’s plan for a 4th of July fireworks show at the beach, claiming the explosives will frighten and harm the seals, contaminate the water, and that the city’s permitting process violates California environmental law.
The Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation renewed its legal battle against the city and the fireworks show’s organizer, La Jolla Community Fireworks Foundation.
At a May 27 hearing, Superior Court Judge Linda Quinn ruled that the city’s special event permits are subject to environmental laws. The ruling confirmed the Foundation’s argument that large events such as fireworks shows require environmental review before the city may issue a permit.
Judge Quinn dismissed a similar complaint from the Foundation in June 2010, finding that attorney Marco Gonzalez had presented insufficient evidence of environmental harm.
The Foundation, through its attorney, Marco Gonzalez, has been fighting to move the fireworks show from the cove for years.
It claims that the city and the show’s sponsors have been organizing the event at La Jolla Cove for 27 years without the environmental approvals required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
The Foundation claims that despite extensive evidence of the potentially significant environmental impact of fireworks shows, on May 24 “the city approved amendments to the San Diego Municipal Code (‘SDMC’) to continue, establish and further its unlawful approval of events, such as the La Jolla Cove Project, without CEQA review, and in violation of CEQA.”
The yearly 4th of July fireworks at La Jolla Cove is near a beach known as “the Children’s Pool,” the site of a seal rookery. The 2010 show attracted more than 20,000 people and included a 30-minute fireworks display and a concert with amplified music, the complaint states.
The Foundation says La Jolla, “the crown jewel of the city’s coastal areas,” is a protected coastal resource that harbors unique marine plants and animals, geological formations and archaeological artifacts.
It adds: “The beach area of the Children’s Pool is a sensitive coastal resource, and the seals there are sensitive biological resources, protected by, among other things, the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 as amended.”
The group claims that pollutants contained in fireworks end up in coastal water, including aluminum, magnesium, strontium, barium, sodium, potassium, iron, copper, sulfate, nitrate and perchlorate.
“Firework shows like those involved in the La Jolla Cove project also result in the release to surface waters of debris from exploded and unexploded shells such as paper, cardboard, wire and fuses,” the complaint states.
The Foundation says the loud noises and bright lights of fireworks frighten the seals at the Children’s Pool, which constitutes harassment under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
They say that due to its harmful environmental impact, the La Jolla Cove project requires environmental studies and permits under the Environmental Quality Act.
The Foundation says the city arbitrarily decided that the amendments to the Municipal Code were exempt from the Environmental Quality Act, pursuant to a “common sense exemption.”
The city denied the Foundation’s appeal and approved the amendments at the May 24 hearing. The amendments are scheduled to go into effect on June 23, the complaint states.
The Foundation claims that “the city improperly deprived itself of authority conferred by the Special Event Ordinance to minimize or avoid environmental impacts, unlawfully avoiding the requirement to review these events – and their environmental consequences – under CEQA.”
It adds that the number of fireworks shows in the city is expected to increase, causing more damage to wildlife, water quality and biological resources, and generating litter and noise.
The Foundation sought to enjoin the city from enforcing the amended Municipal Code. Judge Quinn ruled in favor of the Foundation, finding that special event permitting is discretionary, making it subject to environmental laws.
Mayor Jerry Sanders said the city would appeal.
The organizers of the show have asked for a hearing to put the ruling on hold for 90 days. That hearing is scheduled for today, June 2.