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Suggestions to save Donner Lake fireworks

CHARLIE WHITE, Guest columnist

I have lived at and around Donner Lake over three quarters of my life. I have seen many changes to the community, our neighborhoods, and the people who visit our beautiful area. Like so many individuals who have expressed their concerns in the Sierra Sun, I have agonized over the apparent loss of future fireworks at Donner Lake and would hope we can save this annual celebration.

Fireworks at Donner Lake have been a grand attraction with very few rivals because, Donner Lake, Nature’s amphitheater, adds to the effect of each and every rocket. There were years that there were no fireworks; so, we went to Lake Tahoe; we often could watch the fireworks at Kings Beach, or Tahoe City, and South Lake Tahoe at once (Of course, we couldn’t hear the reports from 22 miles away; but it was interesting nonetheless because each shore tried to out-do the other). Watching them by boat gave us the best vantage point to view and feel this national event to its fullest.

I am very concerned by the actions and decisions taken/made “behind closed doors” which affect so many of us, personally and/or monetarily.

I have no argument in favor of repeating the increasing degradation of our nation’s birthday celebration the past few years. Our fireworks committee has been made up of some very dedicated volunteers over the years, but planning and preparation had fallen short this year, possibly due to the lack of sufficient volunteers. We can also try to blame some of it on “El Nino” because we didn’t have a “normal” spring to make ready for summer – we went from shoveling snow into summer, with very little time to repair winter damage and get set for the onslaught of vacationers.

I would like to see if we can effect some changes on how the fireworks and festivities are handled; let’s have a “trial fourth” next year and see if we can do better. There was some effort to control problems the past couple of years, but they were focused only on the confines of the West End Beach; not the Donner Lake Community as a whole, especially not the West End.

Although I expect much criticism from these comments; however, in the absence of a public meeting, I feel that we need to start somewhere. Consequently, I propose the following (first, my proposals, then my explanations):

Town of Truckee:

A. Pass the following ordinances, effective from 8:30 a.m. through 11:55 p.m., July 4:

1) No parking on any public, or semi-public street (including those “private roads” at Donner Lake which the public has access to), nor street right-of-way, bounded at the east, from the entrance of the Tahoe Donner Beach, westward to the Town of Truckee limits on Donner Pass Road, from the Donner Lake Interchange on the North, and the Placer County Line to the South (hopefully, Placer County would pass the same ordinance for the balance of their roadways at Donner Lake and add to our security needs). Exemptions would include those who have permits for permanent parking along DPR and those who obtain permits for the use of the public boat docks, owned by the recreation district (more on that below). Based upon the previous year’s experience, Skislope Way in Tahoe Donner may need to be added.

Explanation: with less vehicles here, there should be less congestion to deal with once the fireworks are over; with no place to “store” booze, there should be less intoxicated persons (of any age); with less vehicles, emergency vehicles can easily attack whatever problems arise.

2) Impose the same open-container ordinance as is currently in effect in downtown Truckee.

Explanation: should help to reduce the amount of intoxicated individuals.

3) Pass a noise ordinance; something to the effect: No music, nor amplified sounds of any kind will be allowed except for those permitted activities at the West End Beach.

Explanation: With no bands and/or loud music, there should be less congregation of people in one area, other than public places. This should discourage excessive drinking/drugs and all around mischief.

B. Patrol the above streets and be ready to tow any vehicles which are illegally parked. Station “paddy wagon(s)” at the West End Beach parking lot.

Explanation: one of the key dangers is the roadways being blocked by vehicles; therefore, just ticketing a vehicle will not make it less dangerous. vehicles will need to be towed so that offenders will realize that it is important to park properly. The “paddy wagons” must be easily accessible so that officers don’t have to take time to transport individuals downtown; they can move on to the next trouble spot. I think that in addition to Sheriff’s personnel, Firemen can be deputized for this evening to aid in citing/towing vehicles. Maybe a “hotline” needs to be established so that individuals can call the sheriff’s office if they see someone violating one of these ordinances}

C. Declare the West End Beach parking lot a no-parking zone, except for recreation district employees, fireworks personnel, fireworks committee volunteers, “paddy wagons”, and buses.

Explanation: there is insufficient parking at the beach for everyone who wants to go there to enjoy the fun; that can be seen almost any weekend, let alone this holiday. Therefore, people will need to be bused in (the Truckee Trolley certainly can’t handle the possible demand), using whatever buses can be acquired (school buses; ski area buses; rafting buses, etc.); Fees need to be charged to help defray the costs of the buses, extra security personnel; additional recreation district employees; and the fireworks themselves. Obviously, there will need to be a lot of coordination and maybe pre-sold tickets for parking at specific staging areas (school grounds, Glenshire, the old mill site, Crossroads and Gateway)?

D. Station the fire district’s rescue boat at Donner Lake for the day and night to have it help patrol (properly deputized, etc.) the lake and be ready for any accidents. Shortly before the end of the fireworks, the Sheriff boats will need to station themselves about even with the guardrail on Donner Pass Road, across the width of the Lake. Once the fireworks are over, they can turn on their flashing lights to help deter boaters from exceeding the 10 mph speed limit. If needed, the California Highway Patrol helicopter can help illuminate offenders so that they can be properly cited (usually in a rush to get to Tahoe Donner’s beach so they can pull their boat out before everyone else), once they reach their destination.

Explanation: this year, we observed boats possibly exceeding even the daytime 35 mph speed limit.

E. Install roadblocks at the above “entrances” to Donner Lake, starting about 6 p.m. to allow only those people who can prove they have an “acceptable” place to go. This will be the hardest part of this plan because it will take a lot of pre-planning so that people will know far enough in advance that they will need some “approved” Passes of some sort.

Truckee Donner Recreation and Park District:

A. Issue permits for the use of their public boat docks for the day and evening. The cost of the permits would be based upon the number of people using the docks and the number of vehicles (including boat trailers; all will be tagged and tags should match license plates). Some docks do not have sufficient off-street parking so reserved parking will need to be set aside at Shoreline Park. Since these boat docks are so small, there should be a limit to the number of people who can use each permit. Possibly a portion of this fee can be forwarded to the Fireworks Committee to help defray their costs of this event.

B. All boats launched on this day should pay a “surcharge” of some amount to be determined. The “surcharge” would go to the Fireworks Committee. Boats which are pulled out that night and the following date, which can not produce a receipt showing that they have paid the above “surcharge”, would have to pay it then. Again, this will help fund the day’s activities. Hopefully, all private launch ramps would also collect the “surcharge” for the Committee.

Truckee Donner Chamber of Commerce:

As tradition, the C of C should continue to spearhead this event. However, the town council may wish to assign one of their council members to be the “Fireworks Czar” to head that committee. The Fireworks Committee should have representatives of the above entities, so that everyone will be kept adequately informed as to what is going on. The committee will need to coordinate the signage, getting the word out to as many potential visitors as possible as to how we will be operating this event. Landlords, homeowner associations and property management companies will need to be able to pass out information sheets to their members and guests as well-in advance of their arrival.

Well, that ought to stimulate some more comments! I suggest that a public meeting be convened with representatives of each of the above named organizations in attendance. This meeting should also be televised over Channel 6. At that meeting, a phone should be available to take comments from those watching and a computer available to take e-mail comments. Then, maybe a non-knee-jerk decision can be made about the future of fireworks at Donner Lake.

Charlie White is a member of the Donnert Lake Homeowners Association and the Truckee-Donner Chamber of Commerce. He owns and operates Donner Lake Realty, which is located across from the West End Beach.

Sierra Sun E-mail: sun@tahoe.com

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