SAN RAMON -- The last chance for a return of Fourth of July fireworks fizzled out Tuesday, with a 3-1 City Council vote to go forward with its annual celebration minus the pyrotechnics.
The council voted to accept the city's Parks and Community Services Commission's recommendation to hold an Independence Day celebration with a concert and armed forces/veteran tribute, but with no aerial firework display for 2014 and beyond.
"The best thing we could do for the benefit for the citizens is do the same thing we did last year, and put on a program in Central Park," said Bill Meine, chairman of the commission.
Councilmember Dave Hudson cast the lone "no" vote, and took the council and the commission to task for even considering the possibility of not having fireworks in San Ramon.
"I don't believe that this is the best that we can do. We've done it for 20 years and we've been able to do it," Hudson said. "People expect us to do a fireworks show, whether it's ground, aerial, or whatever."
The last time the city had a Fourth of July event with aerial fireworks was in 2011, at a cost of $175,000, but the commission was exploring the possibility of bringing them back on a smaller scale.
The commission identified 11 potential firework show sites, but found only one to be suitable -- a large field along Old Ranch Road. However, that site didn't meet the commission's safety criteria, and there was concern it would be too big a burden on area residents to hold a large annual event there, said Public Services Director Karen McNamara, who served on the commission.
"The reality is that we don't want to have an event that isn't safe, and that is the bottom line," Mayor Bill Clarkson said. "And I hear our former police chief, (Scott) Holder make it clear it wasn't safe, and I hear our fire chief say it wasn't safe, and that there were events occurring that they couldn't get to in time."
The commission also held two public hearings and surveyed more than 500 people about their preference for future July Fourth events. The most popular choice was to have an aerial fireworks show.
Most of the commission's safety concerns focused on overcrowding, and with managing a crowd of several thousand people, which city officials say isn't feasible now that there's more development happening in San Ramon's downtown. None of these reasons satisfied Hudson, though, who reiterated that San Ramon had firework shows for 20 years, and that a lack of fireworks for 2014 and beyond would be "unacceptable.
"This was a question that was asked in the election and we all said, 'Yeah,' we'd vote for [fireworks]," Hudson said. "And now, what's in this recommendation is, 'no firework display for 2014 and beyond.' So you're saying, 'Kill fireworks in San Ramon."
The scheduled Central Park event with multiple bands and an armed forces tribute will cost the city $45,000,
"As painful as it is to sit here and say that I think the fireworks aerial display is not valid, I'm going to say that I don't think it's a valid option for us," Councilmember Harry Sachs said. "We should keep that money in the parks direction, but put it towards something that our residents can enjoy 365 days a year.
Councilmember Scott Perkins gave advance notice to the city that he'd be out of town for the meeting, and was not present Tuesday.