New July Fourth event is coming to Costa Mesa — if a councilman raises $50,000

Costa Mesa will hold a new Fourth of July event this year, providing the councilman who pitched the idea can raise enough money to foot the bill.

City Council members voted unanimously Tuesday to approve creating a city-sponsored Independence Day celebration featuring entertainment, concessions and a pyrotechnic display at the OC Fair & Event Center.

The twist, though, is that Councilman John Stephens — who developed the idea in response to local complaints and concerns over the use of illegal fireworks — must secure enough financial support to cover the event’s estimated $50,000 cost by May 15.

Otherwise, the party’s off.

“That’s plenty of time,” Stephens said, noting that he’s already secured about $22,000 in commitments.

Staging such an event, he said, would promote public safety because attendees would be less likely to engage in illegal activity.

Law enforcement would also be able to more effectively patrol Costa Mesa “without the extensive ‘cover’ created by block parties” spread throughout the city, according to a staff report.

“I think that this is going to pencil out and work financially and, more importantly, I think it’s going to make our community safer during a time that’s dangerous,” Stephens said.

His colleagues were skeptical.

Mayor Pro Tem Sandy Genis said she wasn’t convinced holding a city-sponsored event would do anything to curb the use of illegal fireworks.

She also worried a gathering at the fairgrounds might attract attendees from surrounding cities who light fireworks while in Costa Mesa.

“I would love if we had a way to have an event or do something that would reduce the illegal fireworks, but I don’t think this is it,” she said.

After the council balked at allocating funding, Mayor Katrina Foley suggested requiring Stephens raise the money himself by May 15 as a condition for approving the concept.

That would give the city enough time to cancel if necessary, she said.

As envisioned, the event would start in the early afternoon near the grandstand arena at the fairgrounds.

It would take place in partnership with the Heroes Hall veterans museum — with the idea that people would visit the museum earlier in the day, then stay to enjoy performances and concessions. The event would culminate with a pyrotechnics display between 8:45 and 9 p.m. that would make use of devices offering the same visual pageantry as fireworks, but without the booming noise.

The city’s shindig would take place the same day as the Pacific Symphony’s “Symphonic Springsteen” performance at the Pacific Amphitheatre. The tribute to iconic singer-songwriter Bruce Springsteen is scheduled to start at 8 p.m. and will include a fireworks display.

Despite the reservations of his fellow council members, Stephens said he’s confident the event can be a success.

“There’s so much potential for good in this, and it’s just the first year,” he said. “You have to start somewhere.”

Council members also approved launching a “proactive campaign to inform citizens that the city will be vigorously enforcing its prohibition against the discharge of illegal fireworks and seeking the maximum penalty for such violations,” according to the agenda.

Lighting off illegal fireworks is a misdemeanor, which carries a maximum penalty of $1,000 and/or six months in jail.

The council did not consider changes to the city’s existing policies regarding the use and sale of “safe and sane” fireworks — those that don't leave the ground or explode in the air and bear a seal of approval from the California fire marshal.

Legal fireworks can be set off in Costa Mesa between 4 and 10 p.m. July 2, 3 and 4 and purchased locally from permitted youth sports and community service groups.

luke.money@latimes.com

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