City approves funding for Rawhide fireworks show at Recreation Park without daytime games and activities
VISALIA – The fireworks show will still go on this July but the rest of Freedom Fest has been extinguished.
At its May 17 meeting, the Visalia City Council approved a recommendation by staff to remove vendors and pop-up style games and activities from Recreation Park for the city-sponsored fireworks show on Saturday, July 3.
“Due to Covid, such an interactive celebration is not yet advisable,” the staff report stated. “Staff will reassess a fireworks event for 2022.”
Instead, the city provided $10,000 to the Visalia Rawhide minor league baseball team for fireworks, fencing, trash, porta potties and security. About half of Recreation Park will be fenced off for safety around the fireworks setup and the fall-out zone and the other half will accommodate about 500 people sitting on the grass to enjoy the fireworks show, which will also be seen by those attending the Rawhide’s game against the Modesto Nuts at the newly renamed Valley Strong Ballpark.
“Staff believes this is the safest way to provide a firework show as the community continues to emerge from the pandemic,” the report read.
Last year the city council was prepared to offer $17,000 in cash and $5,000 in in-kind services, such as permits, fees, and police presence, but canceled the event due to public health guidelines prohibiting mass gatherings. At the time, the state was in Stage 2 of 4 of California’s Resilience Roadmap, a precursor to the current color-coded system known as the Blueprint for a Safer Economy. Canceling last year’s event meant losing out a massive volunteer effort to clean up the park. Radio stations coordinated an army of volunteers two years ago who removed hazardous materials from the parks and then repainted benches, planted new shrubs and disinfected playground equipment.
The city has not hosted a fireworks show since 2019, one of its most successful endeavors. The 2019 Freedom Fest was a partnership between the Rawhide, Spirit 88.9 and Momentum Broadcasting, which owns KJUG 106.7, Hitz 104.9 and My 97.5 radio stations. Having so many radio stations combine their promotional power with the baseball team brought about 1,500 people to Recreation Park for family fun activities. The event kicked off at noon with a free swim session at the Redwood High School swimming pool, transitioning to activities including live music, deejay, inflatable games, playground, basketball courts, a skateboarding competition, and food and drink vendors throughout the afternoon at Recreation Park. At 6 p.m., Rawhide Ballpark opened its gates to those who have a ticket to its annual Independence Celebration game featuring a celebratory fireworks show that can be seen by those at Recreation Park. The fireworks show commenced at the end of the game.
This year, the Rawhide will work with the city’s Community Services Department, Visalia Fire Department, as well as Visalia Police Department to facilitate a firework show on July 3.
The city of Visalia has assisted in funding an Independence Celebration for many years including several years with the Parks and Recreation Foundation. When they chose to no longer organize the event, the city put out a call for proposals and CASA was the successful bidder. CASA put on the event at Groppetti Stadium for two years before withdrawing from the event in 2019.
More people may be inclined to attend the fireworks show, which is free for those in Recreation Park, instead of lighting their own aerial fireworks. In 2020, illegal fireworks began booming overhead in May and didn’t stop until August. VFD issued 125 citations for illegal fireworks, a 42% increase over last year, and more than double the next closest community, Tulare, whose fire department issued 55 citations and only 29 in Porterville, 14 in unincorporated areas and none in Hanford or Clovis.
In response to citizen fears and complaints about possible house fires, the council unanimously approved heftier fines for illegal fireworks last month, doubling the first offense from $1,000 to $2,000 and adding $1,000 on top of the current fines for second and third offenses bringing them to $3,000 and $4,000, respectively. Any violation after a third fine would be an additional $4,000 fine. The council also approved a $4,000 fine for sales of illegal fireworks, regardless of if it is a first or subsequent violation.
Fines are either levied on the person who accepts responsibility when firefighters arrive or they automatically revert to the property owner if the resident of the home does not admit to the violation. If it does not get paid, Reed said the fine converts to a tax lien on the property.