By Roz Rogoff
Shape the future of the 4th of July eventUploaded: Jul 15, 2012
I woke up at 8:30 am last Saturday, which is early for me since I went to bed at 3 am after surfing around on my computer, but I wanted to attend the Community Forum at 10 am at the Community Center. I expected a big turnout since so many residents complained about the cancellation of the 4th of July Fireworks show this year.
I expected the parking lot at the Community Center would be full; so I was surprised to see only two other cars in the Bollinger side lot. As I was walking to the back entrance of the Community Center I heard a voice behind me. It was Mayor Bill Clarkson who caught up and asked if I thought the meeting would be crowded. I said I thought it would be until I saw how empty the parking lot is. By then I could see the front lot was almost empty too. I thought to myself, "Oh no, it will be another one of those City meetings where hardly anyone shows up."
Mayor Clarkson headed for the big Fountain Room but the door was closed. The meeting was in the medium-sized Terrace Room with a small line of people signing in. I thought maybe there will be a moderate crowd, but there weren't many new faces in the audience.
I've been to City meetings when the number of staff outnumbered the number of residents. This one was about 50/50, with 10 or 11 residents and 9 or 10 representing the City. Staff members, Esther Lucas and Kim Giuliano, signed in attendees at the front of the room and answered questions from residents during the meeting.
Six members of the Parks and Community Services Commission sat in front. This was in fact an official meeting of the Parks Commission. While the meeting was informal, Commission Chairperson, Dominique Yancy chaired the meeting. Commissioners Heidi Kenniston-Lee, Bill Meine, John Mills, David Ernest, and new appointee Will Doerlich sat in front. Commissioner Carol Lopez was absent.
Mayor Bill Clarkson and Councilman Dave Hudson sat in the audience. Former Mayor Abram Wilson sat next to Hudson, but he counts as a resident now.
I filled out a speaker card and was the only one to fill out a card but not the only one to speak. I did keep butting in though. Sorry.
The woman behind me, Jan Jimenez, asked how people were notified about the meeting. Division Manager, Esther Lucas, held up the red, white, and blue announcement. I forgot how many she said were distributed. The announcement was also posted on the City's Website. All 600+ residents who emailed the City about the fireworks were sent email announcements, and the special meetings were mentioned at City Council meetings.
Since so many residents complained when the fireworks were cancelled this year you'd think more people would come to a meeting to bring them back, right?
Trish Johnston listed the other nearby cities with fireworks on the 4th of July Concord, Pleasant Hill, and Livermore. Jan Jimenez mentioned Pleasanton, but the County Fair fireworks shows were all on Fridays. The Fair discontinued fireworks on the 4th of July because of a gang-related shooting there many years ago. Fortunately the havoc here in San Ramon didn't result in a shooting, but who knows what could come next with such huge crowds.
I asked how the show in Livermore went, since it was the only one in the Tri-Valley. Kim Giuliano said they didn't have the data on the Livermore show yet. Commissioner David Ernest said he heard from a friend who attended that traffic was backed up getting into the entrance of Las Positas College where the show was held.
The event was not held by the City of Livermore but by a private group. Tickets were sold in advance, which limited attendance. Trish Johnston thought charging admission was a good idea, but Dave Hudson said that there are multiple ways to enter San Ramon and get to Central Park, which makes it difficult to sell tickets or control traffic here.
Esther Lucas said 30,000 people attended San Ramon's 4th of July show last year. I asked if all 30,000 were in Central Park. She said no they were all around the park, parked along the streets, in Bishop Ranch, and near the drop zone. This caused traffic problems and prevented police from getting to where they were needed.
Mayor Abram Wilson added, "It was scary. We had people coming in from the outside with different values." There were fights in the park, small fires from improper use of barbecues, and a stabbing outside of the park.
"Jane," posting in the Danville Express on the story about this year's successful and enjoyable 4th of July event wrote, "Let's see ... 30,000 vs. 2,000. How do you define success? Keep your heads in the sand, Council."
Someone should tell "Jane" that bigger does not mean better. This wasn't a rock concert in a football stadium. Packing 30,000 people from all over the East Bay into San Ramon is not better than 2,000 happy, well-behaved local residents in Central Park. Traffic was tied up for almost two hours getting these visitors out of town. Our police and fire departments were tied up cleaning up their messes.
Jan Jimenez didn't understand why the 4th of July crowds couldn't be controlled the same as the crowds that come to the Art and Wind Festival. Esther Lucas answered that the Art and Wind Festival is two days and ends before sundown.
Jimenez grew frustrated with answers that seemed to reject all of her suggestions. Commissioner Heidi Kenniston-Lee sympathized with Jimenez's frustration, "This is a process," Kinneston-Lee told Jimenez, "This is the beginning of the dialog as far as I'm concerned."
Several other residents at the meeting asked questions and made suggestions, including Gary Alpert, Mischa Fritz, and Joe Lorenz.
Commissioner Bill Meine concluded the meeting saying, "It's sad to say but some people's attitude changes after dark. We need to control the crowd after the show. When we understand all of it, we can do it. Talk to your neighbors about the next meeting."
The City is forming a committee of residents to come up with solutions to bring back the fireworks without attracting such a large and unmanageable crowd. If you want fireworks on the Forth of July in the future, you should attend the next meeting in Dougherty Valley on September 13th or volunteer for the committee.