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Crowd Control Fears May End Santa Monica's July 4 Show

May 25, 1986|JAY GOLDMAN | Times Staff Writer

The party may be over, at least as far as Santa Monica fireworks enthusiasts are concerned. Because of last year's huge and troublesome crowd, the City Council will vote Tuesday on whether to cancel the traditional July 4 fireworks display off the Santa Monica Pier.

The ban also would apply to fireworks displays at the Sand and Sea Club and the Jonathan Club.

"There is no way to keep fireworks and safety," Police Chief James F. Keane said. "Last year was the worst."

Keane and Fire Chief Tom Tolman said traffic problems, increasing numbers of July 4 arrests and numerous fires caused by people setting off fireworks throughout the evening forced them to recommend the cancellation of the display.

"So many hundreds of thousands come out here to see the fireworks, and they all want to leave at the same time and we have virtual gridlock," Keane said. "Police and fire vehicles can't move and we feel it hampers our ability to protect the public."

Trouble Happened Later

Most of last year's difficulties with rowdy spectators occurred after the professional display ended, Police Lt. Robert Thomas said.

"There were a lot of gang-type people down on the beaches," Thomas said. "When the families cleared out after the fireworks these types of individuals stayed down there and there was a lot of drinking. That's when we had most of our problems."

There were eight felony arrests that night for crimes which included assault with a deadly weapon, robbery, burglary and possession of narcotics.

City Manager John Jalili also has recommended that the council cancel the display and end a 25-year tradition. In a report to the council, Jalili noted that there were nine fires the night of July 4 that were "directly attributable to the spectators at or near Palisades Park." Fire engines were able to reach the fires only after policemen on foot cleared a path through the crowd.

Brush in the Palisades area is unusually dry this year, Tolman said. Once a fire gets going, he said, "the potential for flying embers landing on structures east of the Palisades is great."

New Orleans and Mardi Gras

While acknowledging that there was trouble during last year's display, Councilman Dennis Zane said he would not vote for the ban until he had a chance to hear from the city manager and the police and fire chiefs.

"Would New Orleans ban Mardi Gras?" Zane asked. "There is a question as to whether the problem is unmanageable. I've yet to be convinced."

Jonathan Club President Don Butler is against the proposed ban. "It's ironic that the council is considering shutting down fireworks displays on July 4 while at the same time the United States will reopen the Statue of Liberty with the biggest fireworks display in the world," he said.

"I think they are going in the opposite direction from the rest of the country. Santa Monica probably has the world's safest place to set off fireworks. Sand and water don't burn," Butler said.

However, Sand and Sea Club manager Mary Lee Gowland said she has mixed feelings about the ban. "It will disappoint a lot of people. But I understand there is a safety problem and the crowds are getting out of hand."

Don Arnett, director of the city's Department of Parks and Recreation, said the city has not awarded this year's $15,000 contract for the annual fireworks display. And he speculated on the reasons that Santa Monica's July 4 crowds have increased over the years. "There has been a reduction in the number of public fireworks displays over the years," he said.

In addition, many communities have increased their enforcement of ordinances prohibiting the private use of fireworks, so many people now journey to Santa Monica to see the display, Arnett said.

Jalili said he realizes that many people will be disappointed if fireworks displays in Santa Monica become nothing more than a memory. In response, he has recommended that the council order his staff to come up with a city-sponsored July 4 celebration to replace the fireworks.

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