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Council considers canceling fireworks, will create new July 4 program

The fate of San Ramon's immensely popular Fourth of July fireworks show could be determined in two weeks, and whatever the decision turns out to be, it appears to be shaping up to be a complicated one.

The San Ramon City Council spent nearly two hours Tuesday evening discussing the pros and cons of putting on the aerial fireworks display this summer as part of the city's Independence Day celebration at Central Park. The fireworks display has been an annual tradition since 1985, beginning just two years after the city's incorporation. During the last quarter of a century, the aerial fireworks has grown from a localized celebration to one attracting in upwards of 30,000 revelers from not only San Ramon but from around the East Bay.

Its huge popularity through the years has caused concern at City Hall regarding public safety and cost.

At its Tuesday meeting, the council voted unanimously to instruct Karen McNamara, San Ramon's interim parks and community services director, to direct her staff in devising a potential alternative July 4th celebration -- without the fireworks. McNamara and her staff will present their proposal at the Feb. 28 council meeting, at which time a decision will be made whether to move forward with a fireworks show this year -- or cancel them.

The cost for San Ramon's July 4 celebration amounted to $175,000 last year, but city staff recommends increasing the budget to $318,000 to accommodate for additional equipment, personnel and contractor costs.

"The issue of safety is related to the size of the event," said Police Chief Scott Holder. "The event causes gridlock. The roads (within proximity of Central Park) are not equipped to handle all of the traffic to take people back to the freeway."

Holder added that the "largest concern" from the police department has to do with the growing size of the crowds, year after year.

Police, public services and parks and community services have nearly all staff on-duty during the 10K morning run and evening fireworks event. The need to provide safety and security in the park, the launch site for the fireworks, parking lots and surrounding areas while simultaneously providing safe traffic control measures and pedestrian access has stretched current city sources to the limit, according to a recent staff analysis.

City officials wanted to gauge input from residents on the matter. More than 600 e-mails were received during a period of several days leading up to Tuesday night's council meeting. Among those e-mails, nearly half -- or 296 e-mails -- were in support of continuing with the fireworks display.

Longtime Councilman Dave Hudson said San Ramon residents have always favored the tradition of its fireworks display, saying that a lot of residents would be disappointed if the fireworks were cancelled.

"Once you yank this display, you're going to hear about it," Hudson said.

San Ramon resident Donna Kerger agreed, saying that while she is concerned about the health and safety of the community, Independence Day festivities -- with fireworks -- is something special for the city.

"The Fourth of July is very emotional for me," Kerger said. "For me to stand up here tonight as the city reconsiders it, is very difficult."

San Ramon is one of the few cities in the Bay Area to hold a July 4 fireworks display. Livermore discontinued its display last year, and Concord officials have decided to scuttle its fireworks show beginning this summer.

Once other cities begin cancelling their fireworks, East Bay residents will be attracted to San Ramon even more, said Councilman Phil O'Loane.

"Now that Concord has bailed, we're now going to go from bringing in 30,000 people to 45,000," he added, stressing that San Ramon's event is not capable of handling that large of a crowd.

Mayor Bill Clarkson also stressed that public safety is an important priority which needs to be addressed.

Hudson said as much as he has seen "the writing on the wall" through the years that the size of the crowds converging on San Ramon continues to grow, he admitted that the aerial fireworks is a crowd-pleaser in the city, and to consider cancelling them will not be an easy decision to make.

"People love their fireworks here in San Ramon," Hudson said, adding that if the fireworks display is cancelled, city leaders should consider legalizing the so-called "safe and sane" fireworks. There are few Bay Area cities which still legalize residential fireworks. In southern Alameda County, for example, Dublin and Newark are the only cities where it is legalized.

"People like these aerial displays," Hudson added, explaining that it would be a good option to consider legalizing fireworks, which could serve as a deterrent to residents celebrating Independence Day with illegal fireworks, such as bottle rockets.

The Feb. 28 City Council meeting begins at 7 p.m. at the council chambers at City Hall, 2222 Camino Ramon, San Ramon.


Posted by Sadie, a resident of San Ramon
on Feb 16, 2012 at 5:57 am

The Patch is reporting that the decision has been made. It has been canceled. What a shame!

Posted by Tom, a resident of Danville
on Feb 16, 2012 at 8:06 am

If San Ramon cant live up to their end of the relationship on 4th of July, then Danville should not allow them to participate in the Danville 4th of July parade. After all we have to host their residents and all the traffic issues and extra costs it creates. We dont need to see a Mayor from San Ramon clog our streets asking us to spend money in their town when they wont reciprocate with festivities we all share in.

Posted by Jill, a resident of San Ramon
on Feb 16, 2012 at 8:45 am

I just hope this is not a sign of apathy towards our country. I am proud to be an American and love this country and the ideals it was built on greatly. Who has not gotten goose bumps or a lump in their throat watching beautiful red, white and blue fireworks explode in the night sky while listening to the star spangled banner being played? God bless America!

Posted by Sue, a resident of San Ramon
on Feb 16, 2012 at 9:50 am

We have lived here for 34 years and the July 4th celebration has always been favorite holiday for our family. We celebrate our country , our daughter's b-day ( on the 3rd ) and now our daughter-in-law's ( on the 4th ).In the morning we're at the parade ( same spot on the route ) and the fireworks at night from our backyard. Unforunately the crowds that come have spoiled it for us and our local neighbors..... with that said we absolutly agree that the fireworks should be CANCELLED. If we have those funds we should put them to better use...example ; A DOWNTOWN !

Posted by Jessica Lipsky, a resident of San Ramon
on Feb 16, 2012 at 11:13 am

Patch reported the story incorrectly with a misleading headline. While the council is leaning toward canceling the fireworks display, they definitely did not take any official action. Officials have been tasked with coming up with an alternate program which will be discussed at the Feb. 28 meeting.

Jessica Lipsky


Posted by San Ramon Resident, a resident of San Ramon
on Feb 16, 2012 at 6:41 pm

To Tom from DANVILLE. The Kiwanis organizes the parade and the city provides security, cleanup and traffic control. The cost to DANVILLE is nowhere near $318,000. Ask DANVILLE staff what the cost is for the parade. While the parade does attract people from outside DANVILLE, including San Ramon, the vast majority of the people in Central Park for the fireworks don't live in San Ramon and come from all over the region. The majority of residents watch from the hills and parks around the city not from Central Park. Grid lock last year lasted over 90 minutes after the fireworks.

Posted by Ms. Bunny, a resident of San Ramon
on Feb 20, 2012 at 8:45 am

End of a small era for San Ramon and I'm guessing they will forge ahead with cancellation. The show has diminished in size in recent years to a degree, perhaps a sign of what was coming. As wonderful as it was to watch from my LR window for the past 30+ years? Funds are tight; very expensive to put on.

Posted by mloliver, a resident of San Ramon
on Feb 20, 2012 at 10:38 am

mloliver is a registered user.

I was a member of the City Council the first year the fireworks were proposed, discussed, and decided upon. My recollection is hazy, but I recall the cost of using Pyrospectacular to provide the fireworks was in the neighborhood of $16,000. As it turned out, some of that became subsidized by local businesses. That amount still seemed pretty large considering the overall size of the budget. I recall security was mostly handled in-house with back-up by Contra Costa Sheriff. A few years later, I recall sitting on top of a hill in our neighborhood, and seeing simultaneous fireworks in Pleasanton and Livermore.

As other cities have dropped the fireworks, pressure on San Ramon to accommodate neighboring communities has too great an impact on our City. It's time to celebrate our patriotism in less costly ways. The vandalism, property damage, and clean-up costs have increased to the point where the impacts outweigh the benefits.


Posted by Bob P, a resident of another community
on Feb 20, 2012 at 11:28 am

Sadly, in this case, the time has come to discontinue the fireworks. The cost clearly outweighs any benefit and is not in the City's best interest. San Ramon has absorbed the negative side effects of a large influx of people from outside the area.

Posted by Roz Rogoff, the San Ramon Observer
on Feb 20, 2012 at 4:35 pm

Roz Rogoff is a registered user.

The City Council is not cancelling the fireworks. They are considering cancelling the aerial fireworks display, which is what most residents think of when they think of 4th of July fireworks. There will probably still be a smaller ground display at Central Park. That decision will be made next Tuesday.


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