GUSTINE - The calendar reads January, but city officials are already looking ahead to July in their efforts to continue the century old Gustine tradition of celebrating Independence Day with a fireworks show.
The future of the popular pyrotechnics display has been called into question in recent years due to insurance concerns on the part of Gustine Unified School District. In light of those worries, and following the advice of its insurance carrier, the district last year decided that fireworks could no longer be set off from the baseball field just north of the GHS stadium, as they had been for years.
As an alternative to keep the show going, organizers last year continued to use the stadium as a viewing venue but launched the fireworks from a city-owned park on Jensen Road nearly a half-mile to the west.
The result, City Manager Doug Dunford acknowledged, was not what organizers had anticipated - and so officials are scouting out new, closer locations from which to set off the fireworks this July 4.
“Last year was kind of disappointing,” Dunford said. “It was not what we expected. I think it was disappointing to the majority of people. It didn’t meet the standards that we felt the citizens deserved for a fireworks show.”
Dunford said the distance was too far, and that organizers had expected more large aerial shells to be featured in the show.
The city and its fireworks committee have not given up on continuing the show, he emphasized, but find themselves once again looking for more feasible alternatives.
Dunford said the city has some ideas to share with school district officials.
He told Mattos Newspapers that the district has remained firm in its position that fireworks cannot be launched from school property. That position was reiterated in autumn meetings between the two groups, Dunford noted.
Dr. Bryan Ballenger, district superintendent, confirmed that the district has not changed its position regarding the fireworks.
However, he noted, the district may shop its property and liability coverage for next year. If the district changes carriers and the new insurer takes a less restrictive position regarding fireworks it may be possible to revisit the matter in the future, Ballenger commented.
As an alternative, Dunford said, the city has reached out to three property owners closer to the stadium to determine if one may be open to allowing the fireworks to be launched from their land.
“The best venue for the citizens is the stadium. The problem is the launch site,” Dunford commented. “There is some farmland around there. We can get exemptions from the county to launch the fireworks. We just have to find someone (willing to allow the fireworks).”
Dunford said staff toyed with the idea of moving the show to the south edge of town and using the middle school as a viewing area, but determined that logistical challenges would be prohibitive.
“There is not the comfort there. You basically have a lawn, without a sound system or bleachers, and the parking problems. We could shoot them off in that area, but who is going to enjoy it?,” he remarked.
A location which would require the front lawn of the high school to be used for viewing is also a possibility, Dunford added.
He indicated, though, that securing a location which allows the stadium to be used for viewing remains the preferred alternative.
The show, Dunford added, is one of Gustine’s valued traditions.
“It is my understanding that we are one of the oldest fireworks shows in the Central Valley. It has become one of our big draws and one of the things Gustine is known for,” he commented. “If we can continue raising money to support the show, and have the turnout of past years, we should continue that tradition.”
The show is funded entirely by donations, Dunford noted.
“Last year the donations came in like they have in the past, and we are thankful for that,” he said. “We are hoping that will continue and that will still have a successful show, one that is closer and more enjoyable for all the citizens to see.”
Dunford noted that the community committee which organizes the fireworks show and July 4 park activities is in need of additional volunteers.
“They need new members and fresh ideas,” he stated. The current committee has done a fantastic job, but they need help.”
Community members interested in participating may contact Tiffany Vitorino at Gustine City Hall, 854-6471.