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Independence Day in College Town

Unsanctioned Explosions


Every Fourth of July, students and other residents of I.V. are treated to what could be described as their own private fireworks show. By taking a short walk to the grassy open spaces near El Colegio Road, they can take advantage of the annual fireworks show put on by the Rotary Clubs of Goleta. And you’ll find that many people do just that every year.

Cat Neushul

This year’s show was particularly good. There were fireworks that looked like happy faces, ones that exploded at different times within the same batch, and ones that exploded in a variety of colors. Every year the fireworks seem to be a little different, and more interesting. While the Goleta show might be smaller and less flashy than the Santa Barbara show, but it works well for kids. Right when they’re starting to lose interest, the show’s over.

Another reason people might prefer this fireworks show is the low key, mellow environment. If you’ve ever watched the fireworks in downtown Santa Barbara, you’ve fought through the crowds and felt that claustrophobic feeling. At the Goleta fireworks celebration you can pick a spot in the grass and feel like it’s just you and the fireworks. You also don’t have to fight the crowds to get to your car.

“The fireworks are very up close and personal,” said Patricia Fabing, a Noontime Rotary Club of Goleta member who co-chaired the Goleta Fireworks Festival Committee with Scott Missman. She said the fireworks cost about $25,000 and are paid for through sponsors. The committee hired a pyrotechnic firm from Los Angeles to pick the fireworks and set the display to music. The show is carefully choreographed and timed to avoid problems with airplane traffic.

The fireworks are only part of the celebration. The Rotary Club also organizes a festival at Girsh Park with jumping toys, music, and food. People who want to celebrate the day in this way can do so by making a small donation ($6 for adults and $4 for children). This year all the children’s games including jumpers were free with admission, which makes the event particularly attractive for families.

The money raised from this event is used to support groups throughout the community, Fabing said. Nonprofits can sell raffle tickets for prizes given out at the festival, and receive half of the proceeds: instant funding. Representatives from Friendship Manor in Isla Vista sold tickets for the raffle, raising funds for their retirement home. The Rotary Club uses the money it raises from this annual event—about $20,000—to provide scholarships, support athletic teams, and pay some expenses for students attending Los Prietos Boys’ Camp, Fabing said.

In addition to the Rotary Clubs’ fireworks display and others that are fun, safe, and sanctioned by local authorities, there are quite a few that go unnoticed by the constabulary and drive local residents crazy. Even with the threat of a $500 fine, students light up fireworks on a nightly basis in the weeks leading up to, and after, the Fourth of July, waking up everyone around them and creating a fire hazard. Sure, it might only be a handful of students, but it’s an irritation that you don’t find in most neighborhoods outside of Isla Vista.

One resident spent the Fourth trying to stop people from setting off fireworks that often ended up in a front yard or in the open space. He said that a group of students from the same house kept using trash cans and other objects to see what would happen when they exploded fireworks inside them. While it might have been fun for the students, it made the non-student residents around them nervous: With all the dry grass and brush in the area, it’s essential to make sure that a misguided firework does not set off a fire.

Year after year students light up fireworks and do experimentation. One way to handle this problem would be to call the police each time this happens. Another way would be to do some form of partnership with UCSB and Santa Barbara City College, to educate students about the dangers, maybe even show them a video of recent fires to show how real the risks are. I would prefer the latter solution. It’s possible that students might realize that their fun could spell tragedy for those around them. Maybe then they’ll figure out a way to celebrate the Fourth without setting off explosions.

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