Morro Bay donates $10,000 for Fourth of July fireworks show

nwilson@thetribunenews.comMarch 26, 2014 

In 2009, Morro Bay celebrated the Fourth of July with a laser-and-music display. After widespread community disappointment, the traditional fireworks show was brought back the next year.

JAYSON MELLOM — The Tribune

The Morro Bay Fourth of July fireworks show will go on after a deadline-driven funding allocation from the City Council on Tuesday kept it afloat.

After a two-and-a-half hour discussion, the council approved giving the group organizing the holiday event a $10,000 grant and a $4,000 waiver in city fees.

The council voted 4-1 to approve the funding, which prevented the popular fireworks show from being canceled.

“The council’s decision was going to make or break the event,” said Dan Podesto, board president for the nonprofit Morro Bay 4th Inc. “We just don’t have the manpower to raise all of the money we need to put this on.”

The organization needed a quick commitment from the council because it faces an April 1 deadline to apply for a Coast Guard permit to shoot fireworks from a barge in the bay.

The event, coordinated by six volunteers, will cost about $35,000 for fireworks, insurance, bands, and other expenses.

The show has traditionally drawn thousands of viewers to Tidelands Park.

Coordinators say the event, which also features a community bike parade, is an economic driver for sales tax and hotel tax revenues.

The rest of the event funding will come from fundraising, donations solicited in city water bills, and possible grants.

The nonprofit expects to receive $9,500 from the Morro Bay Tourism Business Improvement District, Podesto said.

Councilwoman Nancy Johnson cast the dissenting vote, pushing for “fiscal responsibility.”

She suggested the Morro Bay 4th group should seek funding from the Morro Bay 50th Committee, which is organizing events to celebrate the city’s 50th anniversary of incorporation. The group received $15,000 from the council last fall.

“Believe me, I love the Fourth of July, I love fireworks, but last year we gave $5,000,” Nancy Johnson said. “I really have a problem with $10,000. … If this (request for money) doesn’t happen every year, it will be a first.”

But Councilman George Leage supported allocating $10,000, saying the city needs the event as part of its 50th anniversary celebrations.

“We have to do something,” he said. “I’m OK with $10,000.”

The fireworks show returned after a switch to a laser-and-music extravaganza in 2009 met with widespread community disappointment.

After the 2009 debacle, coordination of the event moved from the Chamber of Commerce to the new Morro Bay 4th organization and its energized group of 25 volunteers.

Organizers, none of whom are paid, say that in recent years they’ve had trouble getting enough donations and volunteers.

Last year was the first year the city kicked in funds, Councilwoman Christine Johnson said.

“We find that we get the same committed people each year helping out, and those people tend to be part of multiple organizations,” Podesto said.

Before voting, Councilman Noah Smukler said he supported the family-oriented show but wants better financial planning.

“I think it’s essential there’s coordination and long-term planning so we’re not having hourlong conversations on this in the future,” Smukler said.

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