On the Front Lines of the Culture Wars

Recoiling from a nationwide outcry, a San Diego judge has postponed her ban on civic fireworks celebrations.

Superior Court Judge Linda Quinn has delayed for three months her decision that banned fireworks displays, charity walkathons, Mardi Gras, beach festivals, birthday parties in city parks and weddings at historic sites in the southern tip of California.

CLICK HERE to read about judge’s earlier decision

More than 20,000 events continue to be at risk of cancellation under her ruling, which permits public events only after intensive environmental impact reviews — which often take more than a year by environmental experts and usually cost tens of thousands of dollars.  

Judge Quinn has been inundated by pleas from a wide spectrum of charities, including organizers of the annual San Diego St. Patrick’s Day Run, who said the expense of ecology studies would mean thousands of dollars would be diverted from a hospital charity that helps families without health insurance. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s local chapter said its fundraising would be severely hampered — with children’s lives at stake.  

San Diego Deputy City Attorney Glenn Spitzer said the area would lose tens of millions of dollars of tourism dollars if the ruling is allowed to stand.

The judge altered her order, giving officials until August 31 to explain what they have done to comply with her ruling — which makes events on public property subject to review under the state Environmental Quality Act.

The ruling came after a long  battle in which a small ecological group from the suburb of Encinitas, which calls itself the Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation, sued to force an extensive review of the impact of the La Jolla fireworks show. The activists insist that 4th of July reenactments of the Star-Spangled Banner‘s “rockets’ red glare” and “bombs bursting in air,” dumps toxic chemicals into the ocean and threatens the health of seals, birds and other wildlife.

The group is also seeking a ban on swimming on any San Diego beach where humans might annoy seals — a request that would close some of the area’s most popular beaches at some of its most expensive resorts.

San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders welcomed the judge’s change of heart, but indicated the fight over the 27-year-old La Jolla fireworks show is anything but over.

“The idea that a once-a-year fireworks display poses a threat to the environment defies both common sense and scientific evidence,” he said. Of the judge’s delay, he added, “This is great news for the thousands of San Diegans who plan to mark this Independence Day with a beautiful La Jolla fireworks show.”

The city council is expected to approach state legislators and agencies about creating statewide exemptions permitting fireworks displays. The city has not decided whether to ask California’s 4th District Court of Appeal to overturn Quinn’s decision altogether.