Southern California fireworks shows face cancellation without funding

The inside of an airborne firework that creates a smiley face when it explodes.
The inside of an airborne firework that creates a smiley face when it explodes.
Julio Morales/KPCC

Facing budget shortfalls, an increasing number of cities in the Southern California are turning to private businesses and community boosters to fund their Fourth of July fireworks shows.

The city of Inglewood has canceled its annual fireworks show, while other cities, such as Torrance and Marina del Rey, have already decided to cancel fireworks shows for 2011.

Debbie Talbot, with the Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors, said 2010 is the last year the department will fund the Marina del Rey Independence Day festival at the harbor.

”You hate to cut it but it’s expensive,” Talbot said. “Everyone is struggling with this economy.”

This year’s show will still include the day-long boat rides, shuttle services and lagoon activities and cap off with a 20-minute fireworks display at night.

City officials are expected to explore the possibility of having sponsors fund the more than $100,000 yearly event, Talbot said. Talks are expected to begin soon because of the amount of detail that goes into planning such an event, she said.

The Department of Beaches and Harbors had also stopped funding the city’s New Years fireworks show last year. The 2010 celebration happened only because community fund raising and business sponsorships saved the event.

“It’s quite a change because now the community is stepping up to the plate to provide the events they’re used to, which were provided by the cities and county,” Talbot said.

View Fourth of July Fireworks in Los Angeles in a larger map

Business sponsorship is a major reason the city of San Fernando was still able to host its annual fireworks and car show.

For the first time in over four decades the city didn’t set money aside out of the city’s budget for the fireworks show at San Fernando Recreation Park, San Fernando Councilwoman Maribel De La Torre said.

An agreement made with city employees and peace officer unions precludes the city from using general fund money for any kind of special event, De La Torre said. The agreement requires the city to reinstate the concessions union members made to help shore up the city’s budget, she said.

The cost of the car and fireworks show was raised through donations and business sponsorships, San Fernando Mayor Brenda Esqueda said. While the city has an operating budget of around $14 million, the fireworks show averaged around $20,000-$25,000.

“Even if there was money [in the budget], I didn’t want to put it on the city,” Esqueda said. “I didn’t want it to come out of the state budget. I knew we were going to go out and get sponsors for this.”

Esqueda said she hope the annual fireworks and car show continues to get “bigger and better” every year and that the “businesses that helped out will be excited to continue to help.”

Tight budget constraints forced the city of Inglewood to cancel its annual fireworks show, along with all other special events, such as summer movie screenings at the parks.

The city will save about $50,000, half of which covered the cost of the fireworks, said Sabrina Barnes, Inglewood Parks and Recreation director. Around $15,000 paid for staffing and traffic control.

“The decision came about through larger discussions about where we were fiscally,” Barnes said. “City council decided where our priorities are.”

The decision to cancel the annual fireworks show came in the last two months. Private funding was continuously sought, as with all special events in the city, as part of an ongoing effort to defer costs, Barnes said. Over the years, donations from community members and local business had gotten smaller and smaller making it more difficult to raise adequate funding.

“Everyone is in a similar predicament,” Barnes said.

Paul Souza, a fifth-generation pyrotechnician, said fireworks are just one of many costs associated with producing a large public Independence Day event.

Souza works with Pyro Spectaculars, the Rialto-based company that supplies the fireworks for the annual event at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Americafest. He said community's that early on had made the "prudent" decision to cancel have since had the community and private businesses step in with donations to cover the costs.

"There hasn't been that many cancellations at all. We've had a lot of last-minute adds," Souza said "We actually start planning Fourth of July 2011 events next week."