July 4 fireworks show nears reality

Last year, a cool $55,000 was spent on Downey's July 4 fireworks celebration, with the city anteing up $25,000, and contributions from a slew of donors led by Kaiser Permanente, Supervisor Don Knabe, and Coca-Cola (in products) making up for the difference.The fireworks show, the first ever for Downey, was deemed a success. The only fly in the ointment was parking. It will be recalled that the event also celebrated the grand opening of the Discovery Sports Complex, and there was no on-site parking to accommodate the thousands of visitors who flocked to the evening's show. Parking was made available, however, at two designated places, courtesy of the L. A. County Probation Department and the L.A. County Office of Education, but both were located off Imperial Highway, and both some distance away (shuttle service was provided, though). But no matter how ingenuous the fireworks watchers were in negotiating their way to the fireworks area (scrambling to park at nearby side streets if lucky, etc.), a bit of walking was "inevitable." All of this prompted this comment, after the event, from someone: "I'm fairly certain residents would have no problem paying a $1 or $2 parking fee if it means avoiding a 1-mile or 2-mile walk." This year parking will hardly be an issue (scheduled venue is Downey High School), but there's a far more serious problem to be solved. Faced with reduced revenue streams in straightened economic conditions, and thus presumably to underscore the official fiscal tone, the city has decided not to fund even a fraction of the cost of producing this year's July 4 fireworks spectacular. Councilman Dave Gafin didn't mince words in supporting his colleagues on the council on March 23: "The use of public funds at this time is reckless." Instead, they agreed with City Manager Gerald Caton's suggestion that the event can be rescued if staff can find a way to fund the event with other than public funds. Deputy City Manager Mark Sauter, last year's event coordinator and upon whose shoulders the major task of raising the needed private funds has fallen, is very optimistic it can be done. He said last year's coincidental costs related to the sports complex's grand opening added substantially to the total expense: extra police/fire personnel and equipment, as well as extra staff to supervise the various activities (including sports and the ribbon cutting) during the all-day affair were needed. With the elimination of the above extraordinary budget items and with this year's focus on just the activities considered normal to and consistent with the spirit of a July Fourth celebration, including the fireworks proper, he is positive a July 4 extravaganza equaling last year's show is possible with a budget of only $40,000 ("cost of fireworks alone is $30,000"). The all-day affair he envisages would consist of: baseball, softball, basketball, and probably even football, including perhaps tug-of-war and similar-type activities, plus opening the pool from, say, 4-7 p.m., he said. In any case, he said he'd feel more comfortable with an extra $10,000 as a cushion, "just in case." As this issue goes to press, Sauter has secured pledges totaling $30,000. He said he's ahead of last year's pace and he's working feverishly to raise the additional money. There are a few donors who give or may give in kind: these he's thinking of auctioning off in an event like the Street Faire. This is just one manifestation of Sauer's mindset. Other creative fundraising ideas are percolating in his head. And why is he putting his shoulder to the wheel on this? He lists a number of benefits: 1) First and foremost is the security & safety issue-having a fireworks show in one place is easier to police vs. scattered backyard 'safe and sane' fireworks parties, with all the inherent likelihood of accidents involved; 2) the choice of where one can enjoy a fireworks show on the Fourth of July is always problematical-and parking is everywhere a problem; given the abundance of parking at DHS and immediate vicinity, nobody can ask for more; 3) "You park your car, you walk to the fireworks site, you have a good time, then off you go-no hassle, no trash to pick up, no clean-up to do afterwards," Sauter said. "With city staff overseeing everything, there's no reason why it shouldn't be a fun experience for everybody, for families, for the community." "That's just the point," chimed in Harold Tseklenis, who's not at all afraid to speak his mind. "If the city believes something like this is worth holding, then it should commit to underwriting the event. Sure, not spending taxpayers' money is commendable, but isn't asking them for donations placing an extra burden on them just the same?" To which, of course, a counterargument may also be made. For his part, Sauter would only say, "As it is, I face a difficult task. I'm engaged in planning and fundraising for something which may or may not happen." Indeed, the whole matter will be reviewed-and decided upon-by the City Council on May 11. If it's approved, a new tradition-Downey's own and potentially a glorious one-takes hold.

********** Published: April 30, 2010 - Volume 9 - Issue 2