School board snuffs out 1999 fireworks request
This year’s Fourth of July will most likely mark the end of a 15-year-old tradition of fireworks in Truckee.
At last Thursday’s meeting, the Tahoe-Truckee Unified School District board voted 3-2 against a motion to approve this year’s fireworks at Tahoe Truckee High School’s Surprise Stadium. During February’s school board meeting, board members delayed their decision on the issue until the March meeting last week.
Robert French, representing the Truckee Fourth of July Fireworks Committee, addressed concerns about having the Fourth of July event at the stadium, issues of liability security, crowd control, traffic and alcohol consumption.
“We are prepared if you allow us to use your facility,” French told board members. “The fireworks show is a tremendous community tradition. The (stadium) is the only place that seems to meet everyone’s concerns.”
Fireworks have been displayed at the West End Beach location for the past 15 years.
But last Fourth of July the event was marred by a mini-riot near West End Beach in which a Nevada County Sheriff’s deputy was injured and had to be airlifted for medical attention. The festivities became a source of public comment and concern. Other officers were threatened by the crowd and traffic was grid-locked, which hampered emergency access to the Donner Lake location.
The Truckee-Donner Chamber of Commerce, which has sponsored the event for the past seven years, announced early this year it would drop sponsorship. The chamber will continue to sponsor Truckee’s annual Fourth of July parade.
French said the committee picked Surprise Stadium as a desired venue because it seemed to address all of the major concerns: Ingress and egress at the stadium is easy, parking is readily available, it is close to emergency services and is centrally located, he said.
“There were a lot of positive things about it.”
The board said it did not believe that all of the concerns were met, however, and according to Suzanne Prouty, TTUSD board president, having the fireworks display at the stadium was not in the best interest of the district.
“We’d love to have fireworks. But overall it’s a huge worry for us,” said Prouty.
Liability was a major concern. Even though the chances of something serious happening, like a fire or explosion, are very slim, if something catastrophic did occur, the board would be grossly liable, said Prouty at the meeting.
“It’s our responsibility as a board; it’s our property,” said Karen Van Epps, TTUSD board member.
“We don’t have the money to pay for liability. Even if it is not our fault, you still get sucked in,” said Prouty.
“We want to spend every cent of district money on education. This is something that would just benefit Truckee. But this is the Tahoe-Truckee Unified School District. We have to look at everything and ask, will
it benefit the kids? Is it good for all children in our district?”
At the board meeting, Prouty also voiced concern that there seems to be an increase in violence at events like last year’s fireworks. There were riots at last summer’s Hot August Nights in Reno as well as a violent incident at an event at the Incline Village Hyatt last spring, said Prouty.
“It appears there is a trend towards violence in large crowd get-togethers. When I start seeing big things swing out of control, it troubles me,” she said.
Other concerns included the issue of alcohol and tobacco use during the event. Both of those activities are not allowed on school property.
“It’s hard to really patrol that kind of area,” said Prouty. “The worst thing is, what if people are drinking at the lake and then come to the fireworks?”
Alcohol was a big problem during mini-riot at last year’s West End Beach fireworks event. According to French and school board members, there were a lot of keg parties and drinking going on that day in near-by neighborhood.
Alcohol sales inside West End Beach stopped at 7 p.m., two hours before the 9 p.m. fireworks show.
Doug Hamilton, one of the board members who voted in approval of the fireworks at the stadium, said, “It’s a different event than last year. People aren’t down there all day like last year.” He said that one of the problems with the West End Beach location was that people got to the lake early to water ski all day or hang around the beach.
Before the board voted on the proposal, Superintendent Pat Gemma voiced his opinion.
“I don’t think it’s in the best interest of the district (to approve the stadium as a venue). I cannot recommend it,” he said.
Also present at the board meeting was Sgt. Ken Harper from the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office
He was there to help address the board’s concerns in terms of security and traffic problems.
“Basically, security has been met,” said Harper. He mentioned that Bill Graham Presents, a private security guard company who the committee had talked about hiring for the event, works well with larger crowds.
Harper said they would check at the gates for alcohol.
He also said that traffic management would be a challenge, but feasible.
“There’s going to be some issues with (traffic) just like a busy ski weekend,” said Harper.
Truckee Fire Protection District Chief Mike Terwilliger, who was unable to attend the board meeting said later that he supported the school’s decision, but at the same time believed the stadium would have met safety concerns.
“I support the (board’s) decision, but the stadium (venue) alleviated concerns that we had about West End Beach. We felt all access and egress and EMS issues would have been met,” said Terwilliger.
Prouty suggested that waiting a year to hold fireworks in Truckee would help reduce the number of people who attend the fireworks, give event organizers time to recommend another possible site as well as give the board more time to address its concerns with holding the event at Surprise Stadium.
“If we wait a year, it would give us time to work on the issues. They are big issues,” said Van Epps.
Currently, the committee has not identified another suitable fireworks venue in the town of Truckee.
“It looks like for this year there’s not going to be a (fireworks) show,” said French. “I would be hard pressed to think of a location other than the stadium.”
“I’ve been doing this show since 1984. It’s one of those rare events where everyone in this town gets to enjoy the benefits. There’s nothing negative associated with this event. It’s a family event,” he said.
“This riot was an extraordinary, and I hope, isolated event,” said French. “The sad thing is, it destroyed a great thing for the town.”
Some suggestions have been made for having a fireworks display at Boreal Ridge.
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Nevada County is now likely to remain in the red tier barring “extenuating circumstances,” thanks to changes to the state’s reopening blueprint announced this week.