Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker’s recently released budget proposal again focuses on improving air quality in the capital city, but alongside investments in public transportation is a more unconventional air-quality solution—the elimination of city funding for the July 4 firework displays at Jordan Park and the July 24 Pioneer Day fireworks at Liberty Park.
Becker spokesman Art Raymond says that the administration is a strong supporter of community gatherings, but that continuing to take a stand on clean air requires the withdrawal of financial support for fireworks.
“We feel that we can't appropriately advocate—as we have done and will continue to do so—on doing all that we can to address the air quality issue and simultaneously fund fireworks displays as we do now,” Raymond says.
The cuts would save the city $25,000 and could keep particulate matters from spiking during the summer celebrations, but city council members wonder if it’s worth the savings, as eliminating the two community celebrations could make Becker out to be the Grinch who stole Pioneer and Independence day.
Firework displays have been known to cause temporary spikes in particulate matters in the air, says Donna Spangler, the spokeswoman for the Utah Department of Environmental Quality. But, she says, measuring the impact of public firework displays can be tricky, and generally, the pollution spikes don’t last much longer than the day they occur.
“It's a point source, a moment in time; we know that,” Raymond says. “But, cumulatively, these factors degrade the air-quality situation.”
The DEQ has advised Utahns against lighting personal fireworks because of the health effects.
“It’s not just a fireworks display for two hours a night we worry about; it’s people [lighting] fireworks all day long and having it just continuing to build,” Spangler says.
Salt Lake City Councilman Luke Garrott says he considers it “silly” that Becker’s proposal expects to address air quality by punishing two popular city events while still allowing fireworks at sporting events and on residents' streets and driveways.
“If it were more than symbolic, then we would be talking about a citywide ban,” Garrott says. An inconsistent approach, he says, would not only eliminate two community gatherings but also possibly hurt air quality by providing a “perverse incentive” for citizens to light more fireworks at their homes if they can't take part in one of the celebrations at the parks.
Raymond says that Salt Lake City is not unique in attempting to move away from large public firework displays; other cities, he says, have replaced fireworks with laser shows or public movie screenings.
But, Raymond says, this is early in the process, and it won't be until after multiple public hearings that the council will be approving the budget in June.
“We expect a healthy conversation about it,” Raymond says. “That's part of the decision-making process—to inspire conversation and debate because that's how we get to better ideas.”
Salt Lake City Councilwoman Erin Mendenhall, whose district contains Liberty Park (600 E. 900 South), could not be reached for comment.
Councilman Kyle LaMalfa, whose west-side District 2 includes Jordan Park (1060 S. 900 West), says he's had to do some “soul-searching” over the proposal. While LaMalfa applauds the courage of Becker in taking a stand for clean air, he says he can't justify the loss of the biggest event of the year for his community. LaMalfa says he takes pride in the event, which packs the park to capacity with Pacific Islander, Latino and Asian families.
It’s a community that, LaMalfa says, “believes in the American Dream, and to take that away would be a serious cultural loss.”