Jun 27 2012

VC Fireworks show influcences new state bill by Charles Carr

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19 hours ago • By CHARLES CARR For the North County Times

Hop in, buckle up. We’re visiting this week with Kelly Crews, organizer of Fireworks for Valley Center, a group devoted to, well, the name says it all.

After having to cancel last year’s show both because of funding issues and a snarl of red tape called the California Environmental Quality Act, Crews says getting this year’s fireworks show off the ground was by no means a sure thing.

“They want you to do a CEQA review for just about any event, no matter how small,” she said. “It is unbelievable how many studies and reports are required. We had to do the exact same things big projects like housing developments have to do.”

In part because of Crews’ and her crew’s experience, the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce backed Senate Bill 973, written to reduce the number of CEQA hoops one-time events have to jump through.

“Everyone agrees that environmental laws and regulations are important,” Paul Webster, vice president of public policy with the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, told me, “but when annual community events like fireworks displays become victims of litigation and regulation, it’s important to change the laws.”

“Crews and her efforts to demonstrate that fireworks do not impact the environment is a perfect example of why the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce introduced SB 973,” he said.

The bill, titled the Save Our Events Act, was introduced by state Sen. Juan Vargas, D-Chula Vista, and is co-sponsored by Assemblyman Martin Garrick, R-Carlsbad.

SB 973 has passed the Senate and is wending its way to the Assembly. In the current wording, only fireworks are exempted and only under certain circumstances. The chamber says it would like to see the bill returned to its original language.

“The bill that passed the Senate makes it more restrictive to permit a fireworks display and other temporary events, and has successfully ended a long-standing community tradition without any evidence that fireworks significantly impact the environment,” Webster noted.

I also spoke with Marco Gonzalez, executive director of the Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation, who takes a decidedly different view of even one-time events.

“We remain concerned about danger to the water supply, as well as the effect light and noise will have on horses and other animals,” he said, “but they did what the law requires. We appreciate them going through the process and hope people have a lot of fun at the show while continuing to make sure the environment is protected.”

Crews credits Valley View Casino and Hotel, which donated $20,000 and is the event’s primary sponsor; the Rincon tribe; Arie de Jong; John Belanich; Newell Cummings; and too many others to mention here for making the event possible. This year’s show starts at 9 p.m. July 4 at the VC Community Center. Arrive earlier to catch the pre-fireworks show.

More information is at www.sdchamber.org and www.cerf.org.