While many residents were preparing for their Thanksgiving holiday, the Cupertino City Council decided to axe its July 4th fireworks display. There was no community input taken to inform the City staff recommendation to eliminate the popular fireworks show enjoyed by thousands of residents for decades. The suggestion to eliminate the celebrations was also relatively hidden from the public, as a one-liner within agenda item #11 for the November 21, 2023 City Council meeting, “Accept the City Manager’s First Quarter Financial Report for Fiscal Year 2023-24.”
Councilmember Kitty Moore cast the lone dissenting vote against defunding July 4th fireworks. “I don’t feel this decision has the input from the public,” Moore said during the meeting. “I think this is being rushed. It’s being done at a time when the public isn’t here to comment on it, because it’s buried on this agenda.”
Moore also stated that funding can be made available to support the annual fireworks. “We have 14 positions which aren’t filled, at an average of $180,000 per position,” said Moore. “We do have money available if we are looking into the budget, in areas where there has actually been leftover year over year.”
On the other hand, Mayor Wei voted to get rid of the July 4th fireworks. The reason Wei gave was that there are worse budget cuts planned in January 2024, so it would be “responsible” to start cutting now. To note: the January service reductions referred to by staff and Council have not deterred the City from approving millions in new expenditures during its most recent October and November 2023 Council meetings.
A Tale of Two Cities
The reason cited for eliminating the July 4th fireworks was Cupertino’s $15M structural deficit. However, Cupertino’s handling of this deficit has been inconsistent. The largest component of the City’s expenses is employee compensation and benefits (via the May 2023 budget presentation). But Cupertino has not had any meaningful reductions in force since its budget deficit was announced. In fact, on November 7th, Council approved cost of living (COLA) raises for both non-unionized and specific unionized employees, ranging from 3-5% and added two new fully paid holidays.
Impending January budget cuts have not deterred the council majority from approving millions in new expenditures during its most recent October and November 2023 Council meetings. On October 17th, Council voted to partner with developers to build a brand new City Hall building, rather than pursue a renovation of existing buildings for a fraction of the cost. This included a consultant contract of up to $170K1.
Looking to the Future
Meanwhile, the City has chosen to cut community services. Eliminating the fireworks in 2024 would provide a one-time savings of $140K. To note, fireworks themselves only cost $45k, but $95k more (breakdown undisclosed) covers staff overtime, sheriff time, and liability insurance. Last year, staff was already proposing cutting fireworks along with the $30K Shakespeare in the Park performances. Neither will be funded for 2024.
Council voted to retain July 4 morning activities at a reduced scale as compared with prior years at a cost of $7000. Councilmember Liang Chao asked for the Parks & Recreation Commission to explore creative ways to hold July 4th celebrations without fireworks, and to fund future July 4th events. The City has cut July 4th fireworks in the past, so it is possible that they may be restored in future years.
- Master Agreement #2023-031, City of Cupertino, available in the October 17, 2023 Written Communications on Page 7: https://cupertino.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=E2&ID=1053225&GUID=32C570ED-67B8-43BB-8BE8-7F0A82467799