It is the end of a summer tradition in San Ramon, at least for 2012.
On Tuesday night, the San Ramon City Council voted unanimously to eliminate the immensely popular July 4 aerial fireworks display as part of the city's Independence Day festivities.
The end of San Ramon's fireworks show comes as neighboring cities such as Livermore eliminate their pyrotechnics displays. Concord city officials decided recently to discontinue its Fourth of July fireworks as well.
But, San Ramon's discontinuance of its fireworks show is, at this point, not necessarily permanent. It could return in 2013.
After Tuesday night's 5-0 vote, the council directed city staff to come up with a new plan that would address public safety concerns by Police Chief Scott Holder and city officials.
"I support putting it on hold for a year," said Councilman Jim Livingstone. "Then perhaps we can do it right for next year."
"If we're going to do this right, it will take time," added Councilman Phil O'Loane. "We don't have enough time (for this year)."
The councilmembers' unanimous vote also means city staff will proceed with planning for a July 4 celebration at San Ramon Central Park this year, but without aerial fireworks or ground pyrotechnics. The latter had been suggested as an alternative to aerial fireworks by interim Parks and Community Services Director Karen McNamara and her staff.
The council also instructed city staff to devise a proposed ordinance designed to allow so-called "safe and sane" fireworks. If approved, it would apply to future Independence Day celebrations, but not this year's. If approved, San Ramon residents would be able to celebrate with "safe and sane" fireworks from several designated areas throughout the city, including California and Dougherty Valley high schools. These types of fireworks are legal in California (Dublin is the only Tri-Valley city - and one of the few in the Bay Area - which allows the sale of "safe and sane" fireworks).
"The majority of problems come from illegal fireworks," said Councilman Dave Hudson. He said cities which legalize the "safe and sane" variety are taking a proactive position against illegal fireworks, such as bottle rockets, which he said are responsible for much fire damage throughout California during the Independence Day holiday.
The aerial Independence Day fireworks at San Ramon Central Park, which began in 1985 from the lawn of Toyota in the Bishop Ranch Business Park, was a community tradition which remained popular with residents. They said their city identified strongly with the annual pyrotechnics event. After all, San Ramon incorporated only two years before the first aerial fireworks were launched into the evening sky.
The city's aerial fireworks has also grown in popularity with residents from neighboring communities who head for San Ramon on July 4. More than 30,000 people from San Ramon and other East Bay cities have headed into town to watch the pyrotechnics.
City officials have also been concerned about the rising costs to present a city-sponsored July 4 celebration with fireworks. Last year's cost amounted to $175,000 but city staff recommended increasing the budget to $318,000 to accommodate for additional equipment, personnel and contractor costs.
"The issue of safety is related to the size of the event," Holder said at the Feb. 14 council meeting. "The event causes gridlock. The roads (within proximity of Central Park) are not equipped to handle all of the traffic to take people back to the freeway."
With San Ramon eliminating aerial fireworks at least for this summer, the nearest city that will continue with the tradition is Martinez.
"With Concord out of the picture now, there would be this tsunami of people coming to San Ramon if we had the aerial fireworks," said Mayor Bill Clarkson, favoring a coordinated plan that would address the public safety issues.
Only three San Ramon residents, two of whom were teenagers, spoke before the City Council, to ask them not to eliminate the aerial fireworks show.
"It's disappointing," said San Ramon resident Steve Rettig. "It'll be very disappointing for a lot of families. I understand the public safety concerns, but it's a shame to see it go. Hopefully, the city will come up with a plan to bring it back next year. The aerial display is what brings the neighborhoods together."
"I have to emphasize how critical this (aerial fireworks) event is to San Ramon," said Roger Zhou, a San Ramon teenager. Zhou was in favor of Hudson's idea to allow "safe and sane" fireworks in San Ramon.
There was no public outcry at the council meeting, which was not held in the council chambers at City Hall, but at the Dougherty Station Community Center in the city's Dougherty Valley. The meeting followed a reception there for former Mayor Abram Wilson and former Councilwoman Carol Rowley.