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Petaluma fireworks show in jeopardy

Published: Tuesday, April 23, 2013 at 7:24 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, April 23, 2013 at 7:24 a.m.

Petaluma's fairgrounds fireworks show struggled for funding the past three years before last-minute donors came forward to save it. But it isn't money that apparently has done in the popular July Fourth celebration.

It's space.

The traditional “fallout area” where debris from spent fireworks could land safely is now a construction zone as part of the new East Washington Place shopping center next to the fairgounds.

That means there aren't any vacant lots or ball fields to provide a safe buffer for people and cars.

“We don't have an adequate landing zone to do a regular fireworks show. It's as simple as that,” said Jan Mandrell, a city recreation supervisor who for years has planned the annual pyrotechnics celebration.

City officials have been exploring options for a show of some kind, including a “ground show” that involves fireworks that don't shoot as high in the air.

But viewers would have to be inside the fairgrounds to see them and the show would likely be much shorter and less impressive, said Assistant City Manager Scott Brodhun.

“Oh, that's sad. I wanted to take her this year,” said Ermalinda Cortez, who Monday was pushing her young daughter, Remi, in a stroller near the construction. She said she didn't know if they would bother going to a smaller show.

“Maybe we'd go to another city that has one,” she said.

Typically, about 10,000 people have paid to enter the fairgrounds. An additional 5,000 or so parked nearby to watch and untold others found higher ground to watch throughout the area.

For many years, the celebration at the Sonoma-Marin fairgrounds was sponsored by the city, but budget constraints forced cutbacks and eventually a complete pull-out by the city. For the past three years, it's been a challenge to round up private financing for the show, which can cost $45,000.

The city looked at other sites but determined they are not far away enough from housing or environmentally sensitive areas.

Brodhun said he doesn't expect a ground show to be worth it, but that city officials were still exploring options. A final decision should be made this week.

What's most probable, Brodhun and Mandrell said, is what they're calling an “old-fashioned July Fourth celebration” without pyrotechnics.

“It's the Fourth of July, the community wants it,” she said. “There would be food, games, contests, BBQ throughout the day — just minus the fireworks. It's a lot less costly, that's for sure. But still, it's a full day of activity. And if people want to see a fireworks show, there are others.”

State-sanctioned “safe and sane” fireworks are legal in most areas of Petaluma, but can be set off only on the holiday.

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