The July 4 fireworks show in Big Bear will be held on July 4.
During a special meeting held June 16, the Big Bear Lake City Council debated whether to hold the fireworks show on July 4 or postpone until a later date. Regardless of a fireworks show, Big Bear’s population on the holiday weekend is expected to swell to 100,000 or more. Without the Rotary barbecue, where some 1,200 people are normally packed in like sardines, councilman Dave Caretto is concerned the people will overrun the parks to watch the fireworks show.
The hope is that people will do the right thing to create and maintain 6 feet of distance and wear face coverings, but City Manager Frank Rush said he is skeptical.
Councilman Randy Putz said he doesn’t feel the fireworks show will make a significant difference in whether there are a lot of visitors in the Valley on the holiday weekend. Putz is more concerned with the gridlock that could be created with hundreds of thousands of people heading up the mountain for the weekend.
Mayor Rick Herrick said he too is concerned about the traffic and potential gridlock. People who spend six hours on the mountain road getting to Big Bear may not visit again, Herrick said. He suggested not promoting the July 4 fireworks show outside the Valley because the people will be here regardless.
Herrick said he was surprised by some of the business owners who were opposed to the fireworks show. They told Herrick that since reopening business has been good. Additionally, staffing is a problem. Some employees are still concerned about COVID-19 and don’t want to return to work while others are making more on unemployment and choose not to return, Herrick said.
Traffic plans, in addition to the July 4 plan for after the show, are needed, Herrick said.
Putz also reiterated his concern that if Big Bear doesn’t hold the show visitors will bring their personal fireworks, which are illegal and could cause a fire. “We don’t need a fire now on top of everything else going on,” Putz said.
Michael Smith, a resident of Big Bear Lake, told the council he is more concerned about the monetary damage to the Valley from a wildfire. He is willing to run the risk of the coronavirus than face the risk of losing his home and community to a fire. Smith said the traffic is a nightmare on the holiday weekend, but he doesn’t mind it, it is a holiday and expected.
Jim Knight of Fawnskin urged the council to take the coronavirus seriously. He is retired from Los Angeles County in infectious disease control. Knight said the disease is the real deal. He is as patriotic as anyone, Knight said about celebrating the birth of the country. But not at the expense of contracting COVID-19, Knight said.
Matt Scriven, who owns multiple businesses in the Village area of Big Bear Lake, said business is booming, so a fireworks show won’t make a difference overall. His concern is the inconsistency and frustration of people wearing face coverings and maintaining social distancing. “We need to be on the same page,” Scriven said. People clearing aren’t doing the right thing, he said.
Scriven’s concern led the council to discuss the possibility of making face coverings mandatory in the city. That matter will be taken up at yet another special meeting on Monday, June 22, tentatively scheduled for 6 p.m.
Putz said that the last three months have been an interesting time to be an elected official. “No matter what, roughly half the people are going to be pissed,” Putz said. So that makes voting his conscience easier, he said. No matter what the council decides, it will be blamed for the good or bad. It’s a no-win situation either way, Putz said. It will be crowded no matter what, the council has no control over people’s behavior and not all will do the right thing, so the city should move forward with the fireworks show and celebrate this country, he said..
When all was said and done, the City Council voted unanimously to proceed with the July 4 fireworks show on July 4. There will be a virtual show live streamed for those who don’t want to brave the crowds or traffic and are more venerable. Portable restrooms and sanitizing stations will be in place at several parks, and free masks will be distributed. The barge where the fireworks are launched on Big Bear Lake will be relocated to provide better views to a larger audience.
What the council did not decide on is whether to temporarily close the Village L on the July 4 holiday to create more space for social distancing. Pine Knot Avenue will be closed from 7 p.m. to midnight on July 4 as part of the traffic management plan to provide easy egress after the show.
At the special meeting June 22, the council will revisit the closure or more likely another creative way to create social distancing. Councilman Bob Jackowski wasn’t in favor of delaying the discussion. He said this council runs away from the matter of closing the Village L every time it comes up. Jackowski said he doesn’t understand what the council is scared of. He said he believes social distancing is the only way to deal with the coronavirus. Mandatory masks are not enforceable, he said.
Jackowski moved to adopt the staff recommendation to close the Village L as a trial during the holiday weekend. The motion died for lack of a second.