California City Forgoes Fireworks to Feed Families in Need

Jul 4, 2009· 2 MIN READ

red fireworkWhen did the Fourth of July fireworks show get so contentious? That shirtless dude 12 Coors deep is just trying to have a good time.

The most American of American holidays can start a shouting match faster than Jenny Sanford blaming her husband’s infidelity on gay marriage. Your grandmother laments the noise, your brother complains about air pollution, and your dad tells him to get off his goddamn soapbox.

John Adams did, after all, write that July 4 should be marked with “illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forevermore.”

But head to the park and you can’t swing a cat without hitting a college freshman discussing how the city could feed the homeless population with the money it spends on the annual firework display. It’s a popular argument. So popular you’ll hear the same crowd grousing about how the city could feed the needy with the money it spends on its Christmas decorations.

Even with the environmental issues that abound, canceling the traditional Fourth festivities is a tall order. But this year, Montebello, Calif., has done just that.

The City Council voted to reallocate $40,040 to a meal program that will feed 5,200 families all year, and provide 112 pounds of food to 100 families each week.

“There is an unprecedented need for basic food assistance,” said Councilman Bill Molinari, according to an article in the Whittier Daily News. “I wanted to try to do something that would help folks in our community. That’s what community is all about.”

Starting in August, the city will give vouchers to the families in need, redeemable at food distributors in conjunction with the meal program.

The funds were originally intended for the now-canceled celebration that normally draws 7,000-10,000 people, some booing the decision to forgo fireworks.

Other fetes are shutting down out of financial necessity. After 44 years, Ivar’s Seafood Restaurants is discontinuing its fireworks on Elliot Bay in Seattle. The chain’s founder, Ivar Haglund, first funded it to save the city’s sole show.

With about three dozen other shows in the area, the company’s president, Bob Donegan, released a statement saying, “It made more sense for us to put our resources into other areas that really need it.”

The country, too, is cutting back. The U.S. spent $202 million on fireworks last year, rather than the $216 it shelled out in 2006, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

High shipping costs and safety concerns moving large quantities of explosives across the ocean mean imported fireworks aren’t in abundance—good news for those fretting about the carbon soot floating around for some 24 hours after a fireworks show.

Traditional fireworks use potassium perchlorate as an oxidizer that has been found in the air for weeks following displays, and found in lakes at concentrations 24 to 1,028 times the normal measure.

The U.S. only spent $193 million on Chinese fireworks last year, as opposed to the $206.3 it spent three years ago. But Chinese imports are still half the price of low-smoke, perchlorate-free fireworks, according to the liberal think tank Center for American Progress.

Indeed, six barges on the Hudson River are armed and ready with 45,000 pounds of explosives from China. The fireworks will shoot as high as 1,000 feet, according to an article in The Wall Street Journal, using new technology that’s gold instead of green. James Souza, the chief executive of Pyro Spectaculars that puts on the New York show, asked manufacturers for a “golden weeping willow” explosive that will float on the Hudson and burst into a cloud of gold dust.