Last week, the San Ramon City Council continued a month-long discussion about how to handle its traditional Fourth of July fireworks.
Since 1985, two years after San Ramon became a city, the parks and recreation department has thrown a major party on July 4th to bring the community together.
With other cities cutting their fireworks displays because of budget crunches, San Ramon’s spectacular has become a regional magnet in recent years. That has resulted in crowds of 30,000 folks and massive traffic jams.
After hearing more than two hours of public comment last week, the City Council directed the recreation team to develop plans for a more city-focused, smaller event without the fireworks. The final decision has not been made, but the costs for the traditional large show are becoming daunting.
The city spent $175,000 last year, but the staff proposed almost doubling the budget to $318,000 to bring more staffing on board. Much of the city’s staff works all day on the 4th of July, starting early in the morning with the run and then finishing late in the evening after the fireworks.
It will be a controversial call no matter which way the council decides to go—after publicizing the issue, about 600 emails were received and were evenly split on which direction to take.
As San Ramon debates the issue, it’s worth remembering how the Alameda County Fair’s traditional fireworks on the Fourth of July ended. Over a number of years, fair officials watched the family crowd that populated the fairgrounds during the day shift dramatically at night to a younger and tougher crowd that descended upon the fairgrounds from around the East Bay.
The fireworks were cancelled after a shooting on the 4th of July in 1998.
As a result, the grounds were closed before the sun went down for several years as the fair served the traditional family-focused folks.
With the approval of the county sheriff’s department, which provides security on the fairgrounds, the fireworks were reinstated a few years later, but displayed on the opening night of the fair, 10 or more days apart from Independence Day.
Interestingly, there is an effort to bring back the fireworks in Livermore after they were cancelled because of budget shortfalls in the city of Livermore and the parks agency. Notably, it’s a group of volunteers endeavoring to bring back the event and to raise the money to pay for it. That’s how the Livermore celebration started many years ago.
We should know in the next couple of months whether the Livermore committee has raised enough money to bring back the event or if the city and the parks and rec agency will step in to help with the finances.
For San Ramon council members, they’re stuck weighing tradition against potential public safety issues. There’s no easy call.