On the premise that Fourth of July revelers will be more sedate at dawn than at dusk, the Ventura City Council this week approved an early morning fireworks display that it hopes will discourage the rowdiness that two years ago forced officials to cancel the event.
What had been an annual nighttime celebration was not held last year, either.
The council favored holding a "Dawn's Early Light" celebration by a 4-2 vote, calling the beachfront show a "safe and sane" compromise that has already proved successful in other cities, such as Santa Monica.
"By dusk, after a day of celebrating on the beach and baking under the hot sun . . . things tended to get pretty carried away," said Carol Green, assistant to Ventura's city manager. "This was the best way to give the fireworks back to the people of Ventura and avoid repeating the problems we've had in the past."
The solution, however, did not satisfy Alan DeCotes, a former City Council candidate who presented the council Monday with photocopies of the 2,000 signatures he gathered in 1986 urging that the nighttime festivities be continued.
"This thing in the morning is going to be kind of like a joke," said DeCotes, who predicted residents would forsake the dawn show for evening displays in Oxnard and Ojai. "The night is the traditional time to have fireworks. It used to be really nice. It was a hometown kind of thing."
But city officials, hoping to avoid the public intoxication, illegal fireworks and brawls that plagued past Fourth of July celebrations, said the event will attract a different kind of person.
"I've talked to a lot of people who are early birds instead of night owls," said Green. "I think there's a lot of people out there who like a sunrise as much as a sunset."
The early hour of the event, which will begin about 5 a.m., is expected to trim the crowds of 75,000 who attended the evening celebrations to about 10,000 or 15,000, she added. To discourage overnight camping, the beaches will be closed until about 4 a.m. Members of the downtown Kiwanis Club have volunteered to serve a pancake breakfast at the event.
Although Mayor Jim Monahan and Councilman John McWherter said the nighttime show should be given a second chance, the council's ad hoc special events committee in a report warned against taking the gamble.
Warning of 'Death Knell'
"A repeat of problems experienced two years ago could result in the permanent death knell for a fireworks celebration for many years to come," concluded the committee, composed of council members John Sullard, Bill Crew and Nan Drake.
Switching from dusk to dawn seems to have made the party calmer in Santa Monica, where city officials two years ago also cancelled a traditional evening fireworks display and moved the event to the predawn hours.
The 500,000 people who swamped the beach in 1986 dwindled to about 150,000 last summer, and rowdy revelers have virtually disappeared, Santa Monica officials say.
"We get people who really come for the experience of the fireworks," said Henry Korn, the city's cultural arts administrator. "They really enjoy seeing the fireworks in the same way that the guy who wrote 'The Star-Spangled Banner' saw them."