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San Diego City Council Rejects Settlement Offer Over Fireworks Lawsuits

4th of July Fireworks light up the sky over San Diego Bay.
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Above: 4th of July Fireworks light up the sky over San Diego Bay.

An offer by an environmental attorney to settle five lawsuits over fireworks shows was rejected today by the San Diego City Council.

On a 6-2 vote, council members opted to authorize an expense of up to $250,000 for outside counsel to put another set of eyes on what City Attorney Jan Goldsmith called "complicated'' litigation over the California Environmental Quality Act.

The original proposal had been to pay the law firm of Latham & Watkins as much as $500,000.

Before the vote, former Councilwoman Donna Frye, speaking on behalf of plaintiff lawyer Marco Gonzalez, said he would withdraw his settlement offer if the contract for outside counsel was approved.

Gonzalez filed the suits to get the city to conform to CEQA and its own policies when issuing permits to operators of pyrotechnics displays. His offer, made two weeks ago, was to split the original $500,000 figure between his own attorney's fees and an environmental review of the impact of the July 4 fireworks show at the La Jolla Cove.

He previously asked the city for $750,000.

Environmentalists contend debris from pyrotechnics displays near bodies of water harm marine life. La Jolla Cove is adjacent to a marine sanctuary.

Gonzalez has prevailed in most of the litigation over the issue, but the city has been able to get the rulings stayed so the last couple of July 4 shows in La Jolla have taken place.

The organizers of the shows claim that environmental reviews are too expensive for groups that rely on annual donations.

Councilmen David Alvarez and Todd Gloria cast the dissenting votes, pointing to a comment from Goldsmith that the cases could be handled within his office, if necessary. The cases were discussed in closed session earlier, so there was little public discourse from other members of the panel.

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