Firefighters to rescue 4th of July parade

The flags will fly, the bands will play, and the chorros will prance around the Sonoma Plaza on the Fourth of July next year, continuing the decades-old tradition of small-town parade.

The Sonoma Community Center has run the popular midsummer event since 1963, but on Nov. 11, John Tamiazzo, executive director of the SCC, announced that the reins will be passed to the Sonoma Volunteer Firefighters Association – which has organized the annual Fourth of July fireworks show since 1972.

The Community Center earlier this year had said the 2016 parade would be its last. A decrease in grant funding from the City of Sonoma, coupled with the ballooning time commitment it took SCC staff to put on such a large event, convinced Community Center officials the time was ripe to pass the parade baton.

In a joint press release issued Nov. 11, SCC and Firefighters Association officials said:

“The Sonoma Community Center has officially passed the baton to the Sonoma Volunteer Firefighters’ Association, which is eager to accept this responsibility and is motivated to make the 4th of July as successful as it has been in the past.”

Sonoma’s Fourth of July celebrations made the Travel & Leisure Top Ten list of best towns to celebrate Independence Day, notable for its adobe-lined Plaza as well as wine-friendly bars and tasting rooms. It’s long been a local highlight of the summer season, climaxing with the fireworks display from the field near the Vallejo Home later that same evening.

Behind the shift in parade producers was money, or the reduction in funds that the parade could count on from city coffers. The process that the City of Sonoma uses to distribute Community Grant Funds for events like the Fourth of July changed earlier this year, when the long-standing policy of awarding significant grants to four “Tier 1” organizations – the Sonoma Community Center, the Sonoma Ecology Center, the Boys & Girls Clubs and Vintage House senior center – was dropped.

The result was more grants for more organizations, but smaller grants for the four formerly favored. It hit the parade organizers hard: For the 2016 parade, the Community Center received the $25,000 grant maximum; last year, according to a city report, the SCC received $43,000 in grants.

When the city changed its funding policies, former director Toni Castrone said the parade has grown so much in scope and complexity that producing it drew SCC’s resources away from its core programs. So an effort was launched to find another local organization willing to take on the organizational responsibilities for the event – and the fundraising challenges that go with it.

The short list of possible parade makers always included the Sonoma Valley Firefighters Association, if for no other reason than their own long-standing production of the evening’s fireworks display. And Bob Norrbom, battalion chief at the Sonoma Valley Fire & Rescue, helped coordinate the changeover.

“We’re not planning on any major changes; we want to continue to move forward with how the Community Center has done the event, they’ve had a successful event for so many years,” said Norrbom. He added that the Community Center is being “really supportive of the transition, that’s one of the reasons we decided to go ahead and do this.”

Norrbom was hopeful that combining the parade and the fireworks under one organization could help both meet their fundraising goals. “The parade is the main event for the Plaza, we want to try and capitalize on that. And help support the fireworks with this event.

“That’s our mission, to support the community in any way we can.”

Since this will be the Firefighters Association’s first year in running both the parade and the fireworks, Norrbom is hoping to begin fundraising immediately. “We’re hoping that we can get some seed money so we can get things going. There are some costs up front that we want to make sure we can cover, like permits and things like that.

“We’re crossing our fingers.”

Anyone who is interested in making a tax-deductible donation to ensure the continued success of this event may do so by: Dropping off their donation at the fire station located at 630 Second St. W., or online at svfra.org and clicking on the July Fourth Celebration link.

Contact Christian at christian.kallen@sonomanews.com.