A year after a similar concept failed to launch, a divided Costa Mesa City Council voted Tuesday night to stage and partially fund a community Independence Day commemoration this summer.
The 4-3 decision — with council members Sandy Genis, Allan Mansoor and Arlis Reynolds opposed — came despite concerns over how much green the city would put into the July 3 celebration of the red, white and blue.
Mayor Pro Tem John Stephens, who again brought the proposal forward, persuaded enough of his fellow council members to commit $10,000 to the cause. The rest of the event’s estimated $60,000 budget would be covered by community donations and contributions, including $10,000 from Travel Costa Mesa — the city’s tourism bureau — and $15,500 in pledges that Stephens said he has already secured.
“My dream may be a little quixotic, but my dream is that we all come together, all seven of us, on this,” Stephens told his colleagues. “I don’t want to do it by myself. I want it to be the ‘Magnificent Seven’ working together.”
As the narrow vote indicated, though, not everyone was onboard with the event, which would take place at the OC Fair & Event Center and include live music, eating contests, face painting and other family-friendly activities. It also will feature a “made-to-be-quiet pyrotechnic display that will be more family-, pet- and veteran-friendly than traditional fireworks displays,” according to a city staff report.
Several council members questioned the wisdom of cutting any kind of check, especially given how much money the city has spent recently on endeavors such as building a new library in Lions Park and opening a homeless shelter at Lighthouse Church of the Nazarene.
“Given the expenses we’ve had this year, the amount of staff hours to get the shelter done, the fact that we’re asking all of our departments to really look at their budgets and skim where we can to balance, the fact that we’re asking the public to donate to the shelter and to donate to the library … I’m not comfortable allocating either cash or staff resources,” Reynolds said.
Though Councilwoman Andrea Marr ultimately voted in favor of the proposal, she also questioned its cost and pushed unsuccessfully for the council to approve the concept without the requested funding.
“I just really struggle with having a third of July party,” she said. “There’s like 10 things that I would love to spend $10,000 on, but we’ve just been spending money left and right on the homeless shelter and other things.”
Stephens and Mayor Katrina Foley, however, said they felt it was important for the city to contribute to the event. The money will come from a contingency fund built into the city’s current $163.2-million budget.
“If it’s going to be a city event, we need to have some skin in the game,” Foley said, “and $10,000 out of our whole big budget is not that much money for the value that this event could bring.”
Genis, who lives in the Mesa Verde neighborhood, said she was concerned the event could interfere with other Fourth of July commemorations such as neighborhood block parties or parades.
“I would hate to supplant that with something different — and, granted, it’s on the third instead of the fourth — but I really love that the Fourth of July, at least where I live, is very much a neighborhood celebration,” she said.
This is the third consecutive year Stephens has proposed putting on a city-sponsored Independence Day bash. The council agreed to do so in 2017, on condition that Stephens raise enough money to cover the estimated $50,000 cost. He did so, and the event drew about 1,000 people that July 4, according to the city.
Last year, however, the majority of the council declined to commit funding, and Stephens said he wouldn’t move forward without its support.
In an interview Wednesday, Stephens said the split council vote this year doesn’t change his thinking regarding the event, or his belief that it will be a success. He said he hopes the celebration will attract 5,000 to 10,000 people.
“I think it’s going to be a fabulous event and will become a tradition in the city,” he said.