In a high desert showdown, Lancaster city officials Saturday are gearing up to defy a Los Angeles countywide ban on fireworks displays over the Fourth of July holiday weekend and approve plans for the show to go on.
Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris said that council members will meet in an emergency meeting Saturday to consider his request for authority to issue a permit and sign a contract with a fireworks vendor for the show, which is scheduled for 9 p.m. Saturday.
Los Angeles County announced a fireworks ban, along with the closure of all area beaches, earlier this week to prevent what officials feared would be “dangerous crowding” as new cases of the novel coronavirus continue to surge.
“Closing the beaches and prohibiting fireworks displays during this important summer holiday weekend was an incredibly difficult decision to make, but it’s the responsible decision to protect public health and protect our residents from a deadly virus,” L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in issuing the order this week. “The Fourth of July holiday weekend typically means large crowds and gatherings to celebrate, a recipe for increased transmission of COVID-19.”
But Parris said Lancaster city officials had considered all risks and were confident they could safely host a show. After consulting with medical experts, he said, officials had planned to use the fairgrounds for the fireworks display, requiring people to wears masks and watch from their cars.
From the beginning of the pandemic, he said, Lancaster has led the way with safety measures as one of the first locales to ask churches not to allow handshakes during services in February. The city began requiring face coverings in March, he said, weeks before the county did likewise in May.
“It’s not like we’re local yokels,” Parris said in an interview Friday. “We know what we’re doing. We really have gone to extremes to be safe.”
But he said county officials refused to consider Lancaster’s safety plans. After the county public health department issued its fireworks ban, he said, the planned vendor dropped out, the fairgrounds pulled back permission to use the site and the state fire marshal revoked the city’s permit for a fireworks show.
“They made the decision for us, without our consent. We will not let them,” Parris said about state and county officials in a post this week on the Lancaster city’s Facebook page. “Fourth of July is such an important holiday for our nation and it deserves to be celebrated.”
Parris said the city has lined up another vendor, who plans to set off high-altitude pyrotechnics visible across the Antelope Valley from the Lancaster Soccer Center. Spectators will not be allowed on the premises, he said, but can watch the show from their homes, cars or streets — and anyone not wearing a face covering outside will be issued a citation.
The mayor said he would have considered obeying the fireworks ban if it had been issued by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors but he did not believe unelected bureaucrats had the authority to force cities to comply.
Parris acknowledged he faces possible arrest for violating a county health order, a misdemeanor punishable by a $1,000 fine and up to a year in jail. But he said he is willing to take that risk in defense of liberty on Independence Day in the example of the nation’s Founding Fathers.
“Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams were going to be hung,” he said. “I can afford to be arrested.”
L.A. County spokeswoman Kristin Friedrich said Friday that officials were disappointed by the cancellation of city fireworks displays but that the coronavirus surge required “an abundance of caution this year to avoid gatherings that increase the public’s risk.”
“We are hoping that all of our municipalities will heed the health officer orders and keep us moving ahead toward recovery, instead of continuing to move in the wrong direction with increased infections and death,” she said in a statement.
She added that the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department would seek voluntary compliance with the health orders but that failure to do so could lead to a citation “with hefty fines.”