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Fourth of July committee narrows down possibilities for 2013 event

A handful of residents attended the second community forum on fireworks Thursday night, where committee members discussed possibilities for future Independence Day events.

The Parks and Community Services Commission, along with a Citizens Committee, chose three of six event scenarios to research before presenting an analysis to the Parks Commission on Oct. 10. Residents were invited to comment on and vote for each concept.

"We are not at a position to have all the details, right now we are in concept phase," said Division Manager Esther Lucas.

Below are the chosen concepts, in order of popularity:

- Scenario No. 4: An event like the 2011 celebration, which includes a gathering at Central Park and an aerial fireworks show. Estimated cost $318,000.

- Scenario No. 1: A centralized event at Central Park similar to the 2012 celebration, along with an aerial fireworks display at a separate location to be determined. This concept would necessitate a significant time buffer between the park event and fireworks show, at an estimated cost of $318,000.

- Scenario No. 2: A centralized event at Central Park similar to the 2012 celebration, including a concert in the park and tribute to veterans. Estimated cost $41,580.

Despite cost and safety concerns, several residents said they wanted to see an aerial fireworks show next year.

"I really don't care if I don't see another firework go off for the rest of my life, but it's about the kids," said Dougherty Valley resident Kurt Vierra." Since1995 we've had a routine: we go do something in the morning, usually the fun run, then to the parade in Danville, the come back relax, barbeque, then go down watch the fireworks. I would really like to find ways for that to come back – I think this community needs it, its something we've become accustomed to."

But having a centralized firework viewing location may not be necessary, said Commissioner Will Doerlich.

"Half of the residents watch the fireworks from some other location, whether it's from the Iron Horse Trail, the top of the hill from the golf course," he noted. "So a central location was not necessarily key to having the fireworks, more of a location that was accessible and visible to everyone."

Two residents, including 17-year-old Mischa Fritz, said they do not go to the park to watch the fireworks and favor casual gatherings at neighborhood parks.

"I have never actually gone to Central Park event, I've only watched it from Morgan Drive," the Cal High senior said. "I think we could also have better success and less public safety issues., so event No. 1 is the best out of all these issues."

Citizen Committee Member Joe Inderlum spoke in favor of scenario No. 2, the sans-fireworks celebration.

"I feel that it's a lot safer, less parking (issues) and I went home and I turned my television set on, and watched San Francisco, D.C. or Boston from the comfort of our home," Inderlum said. "If they had no fireworks, they would save approximately $277,000 for 20 minutes of entertainment."

Another committee member, Roz Rogoff, said the increased cost (which was budgeted at $175,000 but cost over $300,000) wasn't a result of the fireworks, but a result of necessary additional safety personnel. According to a city packet, nearly all San Ramon Police employees are on hand during the event and are "becoming increasingly stretched thinner relative to these duties."

Approximately 30,000 people attended 2011's fireworks -- compared with 2,000 in 2012 -- and Doerlich said 15,000 to 20,000 people is a manageable crowd for the current police force. In order to stem the attendance problem, the committees have been tasked with making a regional event more San Ramon Valley-oriented.

The committees researched several other municipalities that have fireworks displays -- Livermore, Cupertino and the Alameda County Fairgrounds -- as well as others that had stopped their aerial displays completely. The cities with fireworks displays had put various controls in place to stave off overcrowding and decrease cost.

"We spoke with the police chief, fire department, traffic control as well as the pyrotechnic representatives to understand what other alternatives there may be," Doerlich said.

Livermore cancelled its fireworks several years ago but a public fundraising effort brought them back last year and will be able to fund the 2013 display. The city uses Las Positas Community College as a viewing area and charges between $5 and $20 to come in. Since the location is somewhat bowl-like, residents wanting a good view are forced to pay.

Only one resident, Vierra, said they wouldn't object to paying entrance fees.

Nearby, the Alameda County Fair did not put on a fireworks display for Independence Day, but held events every Friday night for its 100th anniversary. Cupertino held its fireworks display at a centralized viewing location but no audience in that location. The city also had day-long celebrations that stopped before the fireworks display so there was ample time to buffer crowds.

The three selected scenarios will be posted on the city website for the next two weeks and residents will be able to vote for their favorites and post comments. The results will be included in the presentation to the Parks and Community Services Commission on Oct. 10. A presentation will be made to the City Council on Oct. 24.

San Ramon's annual fireworks display was canceled this year due to financial and safety concerns. This year's Independence Day celebration consisted of a 10K, 5K and 3K run, a tribute to veterans and those currently serving, a patriotic concert by the San Ramon Symphonic Band and a show by Pride and Joy, a popular band based in San Francisco.


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