San Diego fireworks _ and much more _ are in limbo

AP News
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Posted: Jun 03, 2011 4:31 AM
San Diego fireworks _ and much more _ are in limbo

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society may have trouble holding its San Diego bike ride and Challenge Walk to raise money for research. A St. Patrick's Day Run may need to set aside money destined for a hospital charity that helps children whose families can't afford health insurance.

The warnings and others come from organizers of some of San Diego's signature festivals and fundraisers, alarmed by a judge's sweeping ruling that would make thousands of events subject to rigorous environmental review. In court filings, they say the requirement would be time-consuming and expensive, perhaps prohibitively so.

Superior Court Judge Linda Quinn planned to rule 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 last week extends to tens of thousands of events that require park permits, including birthday parties and weddings in public parks.

It also covers about 400 larger venues known as special events, including Sunday's Rock `n' Roll Marathon and a Mardi Gras party in downtown's bustling Gaslamp Quarter.

Mayor Jerry Sanders has called the ruling "ludicrous" and an example of government regulation run amok. He and other city officials say the ruling may have consequences throughout California and even nationwide.

Marco Gonzalez, an attorney for the Encinitas-based environmental group, told the judge Thursday that 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 threaten 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.

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 made them subject to review under CEQA, as California's landmark 1970 environmental law is known. The city issues 20,000 to 50,000 park permits a year.

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 remarks to the judge Thursday, he blamed the city for failing to adequately address issues about the La Jolla show that are raised in the lawsuit. Organizers of other events, he said, are paying for the city's inaction.

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