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City council votes 5-2 to host 4th of July fireworks on Mt Rubidoux

Public support for the traditional holiday event was overwhelming

On Tuesday, October 25, 2022, the Riverside City Council, after lengthy discussion, voted 5-2 to host the 4th of July fireworks show at Mt. Rubidoux once again. In 2020 the long-time Riverside tradition was cancelled due to the COVID pandemic, and in 2021 it was held at Ryan Bonaminio Park, just below Mt. Rubidoux.

The 4th of July portion of the meeting began with a presentation by Parks, Recreation and Community Services Director Pamela Galera, who presented two possible locations for the council to consider and vote on, Mt. Rubidoux or Ryan Bonaminio Park once again.

In her presentation Galera shared the pros and cons of holding the festivities at each park. At Mt. Rubidoux there is far greater visibility for the surrounding communities and allows for larger shells to be used.

The challenges of holding it at Mt. Rubidoux included fire safety concerns as well as proper accessibility for firefighters given some of the repairs and upgrades that are needed on the roads leading up to the mountain.

The pros of hosting it at Ryan Bonaminio Park included lower cost, no maintenance issues, and the opportunity to make it a full family event. The cons included less visibility for the surrounding communities.

Public comment on the matter was overwhelmingly in favor of holding the show at Mt. Rubidoux.

“I’ll be 40 years old next month and [have enjoyed the show] every single year with the exception of the last two years. The best memories in my life are with my dad, mom, and family sitting on the back of my 64 I’ll Camino on Palm Ave.,” said Riverside resident Steve Johnson. “I think that if we’re going to use that the reason that it didn’t happen for the last two years is COVID as the crutch, we’re way past that we’re way past the safety mandates.” Speaking to the fire safety issues, Johnson added: “I deeply respect interim city manager Chief Moore and the fire department [so] I’m not going to insult their intelligence, but in the last forty years I think there’s been one injury, I think it was a twisted ankle.”

Resident and former Ward 1 council member Mike Gardner, speaking from the public comment podium, echoed similar thoughts regarding safety issues.

“I do strongly urge return of the fireworks show to Mt. Rubidoux.  In all these years there has never been a civilian injury from the fireworks and there’s never been damage to private property,” he said. “Tens of thousands of more people can see the fireworks show from the top of Mt. Rubidoux then can from [the park]. I’ve seen them from the UCR area, you can see it from La Sierra and from the vast majority of our city.”

Some also spoke on how putting on the show from the top of Mt. Rubidoux provides an opportunity for many more people to enjoy it.

“I’ve always watched the fireworks more from a distance, first from a church that was located on Magnolia and Jurupa. We watched it for a good number of years across the river at Jensen Alvarado ranch lot of people spread out their blankets and watched it there,” said Glenn Wenzel, from Friends of Mt. Rubidoux. “The fireworks were moved to Mt. Rubidoux in July of 1964 by the city and the reason was so that the people more people could see it. The newspaper at that time said now all the people were excited because they could see it.”

“For the past twelve years we have hosted more than 2,500 individuals and families for our founders day front row fireworks event on July 4th,” said Judith Auth from Evergreen Historic Memorial Cemetery. “This event on the 4th of July has provided a safe place for families to celebrate our nation’s birthday and to experience historic Riverside so we support the Friends of Mt. Rubidoux in their motion to have the fireworks returned to Mt. Rubidoux for the 4th of July.”

Several other residents spoke during public comment, both at the podium and via a phone call, and all comments were in support of hosting the show on Mt. Rubidoux.

Regarding the cost of the repairs and upgrades, Councilmember Chuck Conder stated several times that these repairs need to happen anyway, regardless of the Fourth of July event or not, and that they should not be a hinderance to hosting the show on Mt. Rubidoux.

Part of the Fourth of July item included lengthy discussion on the necessary upgrades and repairs needed on Mt. Rubidoux to make it fully safe and accessible for fire personnel, and the cost of such repairs. Fire chief and interim city manager Michael Moore, when asked about safety by Councilmember Clarissa Cervantes, also outlined numerous safety concerns with hosting the show on top of Mt. Rubidoux.

“I don’t think I could sleep tonight supporting option 1 [Mt. Rubidoux]. My subsequent motion would be that we go with staff recommendation for option B [Ryan Bonaminio Park] and that we proceed forward though with the needed repairs [on Mt. Rubidoux],” Cervantes said. “I think this is the only way that we can guarantee that we keep people safe and that we can assure that nothing could happen in terms of putting people’s lives at risk. I trust our fire experts and the individuals who have shared why they are making these recommendations.”

Councilmember Gaby Plascencia was also not in favor of holding the event at Mt. Rubidoux.

“We all get pumped about traditions. I also think about hope, that we’re kind of out of this crisis, we’re out of the pandemic, but the reality is we’re not completely out of pandemic and we still have to think about the drought and all the other things that are public safety personnel experts have mentioned today so it it’s conflicting,” she said. “Maybe a couple of my colleagues have said let’s roll the dice, it’s time to bring it back. But then when you think about rolling the dice on burning down someone’s house or someone being injured, I don’t know if I can live with myself if we vote today to put it back on Mt. Rubidoux and then someone gets injured.”

There was also some discussion on which vendor to use for the fireworks. The council opted to go with a single source vendor rather than issuing an RFP for bids from multiple vendors, given the early December deadline for paying a deposit to Pyros Spectacular.

The council voted 5 – 2 to holding the 4th of July fireworks show on Mt. Rubidoux, with councilmembers Cervantes and Plascencia voting no.

For further questions regarding the Fourth of July event, residents may contact their respective councilmember via the city council website.