Plans for a Fourth of July fireworks display at Lake Murray Reservoir are "on hold" until a court of appeals decision is announced, San Carlos Area Council president John Pilch said at the May 1 meeting.
"It could happen if the court decides in the next month or so," he said. The court is evaluating the City of San Diego appeal of a ruling to block fireworks above bodies of water in the city.
Pilch serves on the committee that organizes the Independence Day celebration, which has included Music Fest — live music at the lake. The music and fireworks show started in 1997 and became known as the largest Independence Day celebration in East County. The music started about noon, with bands playing until about 9:15 p.m., when fireworks started.
Fireworks displays at Lake Murray and in La Jolla were challenged in lawsuits filed against the City of San Diego by the Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation. The Encinitas foundation was represented by Coast Law Group, which was co-founded by attorney Marco Gonzalez. He is a managing partner and founder and executive director of the foundation, according to a page on the Coast Law Group website.
In May 2011, the Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation won the first lawsuit that maintained the city failed to study and mitigate the environmental impacts of the Independence Day fireworks show at the La Jolla Cove. The city appealed that ruling, and a stay was ordered on a second lawsuit, pending the appellate court decision on the first lawsuit.
The next two foundation lawsuits challenged two city actions to resolve the issue by amending the municipal code. The city council in November 2011 approved municipal code changes to allow exemptions in the permit process for events such as fireworks shows held at city parks. The third and fourth lawsuits were joined and were the subject of a June 2012 court hearing. The court ruled against the city, stating San Diego failed to review the environmental impact of fireworks. The city appealed that decision.
"The city attorney's office has decided to fight this rather than put together an EIR [environmental impact report]," said Pilch.
Event organizers faced another challenge several years ago. As money became tight during the economic downturn, fundraisers such as pancake breakfasts were held. In 2011, organizations including the July 4th/Music Fest Committee and the Lake Murray Kiwanis sought and obtained donations and sponsors to stage the fireworks show without the music fest.
Last year, the Fourth of July fireworks show was canceled. "This difficult decision was made after careful consideration of the liability exposure which the event would produce and the possibility of litigation directly involving the committee," read an announcement on the Navajo Events website.
While 2013 fireworks are "on hold,” there won't be live music at Lake Murray, Pilch said. "Having a music fest without fireworks doesn’t make sense," he said. “With no fireworks at 9:15 p.m., we might have things thrown at us."