Mention Pacifica to pretty much anyone in the Bay Area, and they're likely to first think of surfing. Next up will probably be fireworks.
Fireworks—the kind that people set off in their driveways and in the street—are part of the city’s DNA. Pacifica has a reputation as the place for fireworks every 4th of July, Halloween, random football game, and Tuesday night if someone’s in a firecracker mood.
Indeed, it’s one of the few cities in the San Francisco Bay Area the has a “safe and sane” fireworks ordinance, which designates certain fireworks legal, and others unsafe and presumably insane. Those often involve rockets and extremely loud booms. But not many people understand the difference, and an increasing number of residents want all fireworks banned citing fire danger, traumatized pets, pollution, and PTSD.
But “safe and sane” fireworks kiosks peppered around town every late June and early July raise more than $250,000 for schools and various non-profit organizations including Terra Nova High School football, the Pacifica Moose Lodge, Pacifica girls softball and many more.
A better way to do fireworks?
Seemingly every angle of the fireworks issue has been discussed repeatedly by the city council and among residents, and various legislation and iterations thereof have been drafted and approved. But during the February 8 city council meeting, newly-elected council member Tygerjas Bigstyck described what seemed like a novel alternative to the current fireworks quandary: organize a large, professional fireworks display, charge an entry fee, and split the proceeds among the nonprofits that benefit from the sale of “safe and sane” fireworks.
Turns out it was not exactly a novel idea. The Monte Foundation in the Santa Cruz area has been doing something similar since 1996.
During the February 8 meeting, council members seemed somewhat skeptical of Bigstyck’s idea. Mayor Sue Beckmeyer indicated city workers would not have the bandwidth to organize the event, so the nonprofits or some other interested party would have to spearhead the project. Others suggested the nonprofits don’t have enough incentive to take on the task when they’re already making money from the existing setup.
One motivator could be the threat of a fireworks ban state-wide, which wouldn’t be all that surprising considering the fire disasters Californians have suffered in recent years.
Another, Bigstyck said, is that the nonprofits could make even more money than they are now, based on the Monte Foundation’s example, especially if you add on an entry fee, vendors and other entertainment. In 2014 the organization’s Fireworks Extravaganza raised $30,000 with no entry fee, and without vendors or entertainment.
A professional fireworks display also holds the promise of uniting Pacificans around an event that could raise the profile of the city, attracting people from neighboring areas who would patronize local businesses.
“It's one thing to have a block party, it's quite another to give the whole of Pacifica the opportunity to come together every year in a fashion that few other opportunities allow,” Bigstyck said. “I really like the idea of raising the money for our groups as a community, and then enjoying the fruits of that work together as a community. Celebrating together not only our national pride, but what we accomplish as a community in the truest sense.”
Bigstyck calls himself a “constant skeptic” and said he’s no Pollyanna when it comes to the potential of a professional fireworks event.
"My approach would be to reach out to someone like the Monte Foundation to understand feasibility and profitability,” he said. “I think that if the money would be there for having built it, even the most skeptical among us will come.”
Another motivator for the nonprofits could come in November 2022, when the fireworks issue will be on the ballot.