July fireworks to stay in Claremont
by Steven Felschundneff | email@example.com
Given the choice between approving a fireworks display or ditching the nighttime portion of the Fourth of July celebration, the Claremont Community and Human Services Commission said the show must go on.
By a 6-1 margin, with Deborah Scott Toux casting the no vote, the commission recommended Wednesday that the city stick with the traditional grand finale to its celebration of independence and pay $31,500 to Pyro Spectaculars to provide the fireworks. The Claremont City Council will have the final say on the fireworks show during its next meeting on Tuesday.
The Independence Day committee, chaired by longtime Claremont resident Charlie Gale, recommended that the commission choose between the fireworks show or nothing based on the feedback it received from the public, and because, in the past when Claremont elected to not have fireworks, people went to neighboring cities for their aerial pyrotechnic shows.
As a recap, the fireworks show was canceled in 2020 and 2021 because of the Covid pandemic. The fireworks were supposed to come back in 2022 but the show was called off at the last minute because of the ongoing drought, and the extreme amount of water needed to saturate vegetation around the launch site at Pomona College.
Last October, with the drought’s cloud still hanging over their heads, the commission was split 3-3, with one absence, on whether to approve fireworks or go with an alternate attraction such as a drone show or hiring a band to play in Memorial Park. The matter was forwarded to Claremont City Council and they decided to bring the fireworks back provided there were sufficient water supplies come summer. They also chose a lower elevation display that required less watering of vegetation in advance. Fortunately, Claremont got its rain and the show was held as planned.
Alternate aerial shows featuring lasers or illuminated drones shows have become more popular recently, driven in part by concerns about air pollution from fireworks. However, spectacular drone shows feature thousands of drones but that level of performance is beyond the city’s budget. And cities do not typically sell tickets for drone shows, particularly in an area like the Pomona Valley where several nearby cities with have traditional fireworks, according to Human Services Director Melissa Vollaro.
“There is a lot of publicity in the news right now about drone shows, and some really fabulous drone shows out there. But if you look, some are upwards of 1,500 drones in their shows and with our budget we are working with we are able to afford about 100 drones,” Vollaro said.
Vollaro said the Independence Day committee was very clear in its recommendation. They would like the traditional fireworks show or nothing at all.
Commissioner Nancy Brower had an opportunity to view a video of a drone show that was similar to the one Claremont could afford but a few minutes into the show she had seen enough.
“I mean it was so boring. One hundred drones is nothing. I am sure you have to have 1,500 or more,” Brower said.
Several commissioners asked how their decision on the fireworks might affect the schedule for the entire Fourth of July celebration. However, Vollaro said it was too early in the planning process to say for sure how the rest of the day will play out. The evening program comes to the commission early because of a strict deadline imposed by the fireworks vendor. The question of returning the Freedom 5000 race to the morning of the Fourth of July also came up.
“It was determined that we can no longer safely do four events of this type in one day, we just don’t have the staffing resources to do four events,” Vollaro said.
For the record, the four events are the race, followed by the festival in Memorial Park, the parade, and finally the fireworks.
Vollaro said the decision to reduce the number of events on the holiday itself was made in 2019 and the 5k race was chosen because it was the newest addition to the schedule. That same year an older driver lost control of his truck during the Fourth of July parade and crashed into some bushes in front of the Joslyn Senior Center. No one was hurt, but many people were shaken.
“It’s going to take us awhile, it may take years, to rebuild the Fourth of July celebration we have traditionally known in Claremont. At least I’ve known my entire life. To bring it back to what it was pre Covid,” committee chair Gale said. “In 2019 we had a very scary incident that happened at the end of the parade. We were lucky as a community that no one got hurt or killed that day. So the city has addressed that issue and they are addressing it from a the risk management [perspective.]”
With the fireworks getting the green light, the race will almost certainly be held on the Saturday before the Fourth of July, similar to this year.
“Prior to the pandemic, staff had begun to make changes to the parade route and Freedom 5000 route to improve safety. Previously, the routes were not fully closed, meaning that streets were not fully barricaded and manned to prevent vehicles from entering the route (accidentally or intentionally). In 2021, the City’s Engineering staff developed a street closure plan that follows State guidelines for both the parade route and the Freedom 5000 5K Run/Walk. The closure plan requires specific safety-rated barricades and staffing for each street closure along the routes. Essentially, the City has to plan and implement street closures for four events in order to ensure the safety of all participants — the Freedom 5000, the parade, the festival, and the Fireworks Show,” Vollaro wrote in an email.
With the street closure plans came a need for more people to staff each event, and the city has a relatively small staff of about 200 including part-time workers. Even with volunteers the city quickly determined that the staffing levels needed to ensure each event was handled in a safe manner exceeded what it could provide.