Nonprofit says it won’t host Antioch’s July Fourth event this year

Antioch could find itself without a Fourth of July celebration this summer now that the nonprofit that has put on the big show for more than a decade is taking a “pause.”

Unless another group comes forward or the city holds its own celebration, there will be no official fireworks, parade or live music this July.

Celebrate Antioch Foundation notified the Antioch City Council, mayor and parks and recreation director on Jan. 13 that it planned to take a break from hosting the big event that attracts people from not only Antioch but also neighboring communities in eastern Contra Costa County. In its email, the nonprofit cited as its reasons a changed working relationship with Antioch officials and their belief the mayor and city “would like to go in a different direction.”

“It is impossible nor financially plausible for CAF to continue down this path of organizing an Antioch 4th of July celebration without having a willing partnership with the city,” the letter from the nonprofit’s executive board and officers read in part.  “Last year’s Juneteenth debacle, the lack of acknowledgment for our work on the Sesquicentennial (events) and your most recent efforts to reach out to another organization to organize and facilitate Antioch’s Fourth of July festivities have spoken for you.”

Celebrate Antioch Foundation President Joy Motts said the group was referring to last summer’s Juneteenth event, which the group had already planned and paid for, but said the city tried to “take it over.” Some of the nonprofit’s leaders feared the same would happen with the July Fourth event, she said.

“They don’t own Juneteenth,” Mayor Lamar Thorpe said this week, adding that the city wanted a larger, more inclusive event. “Nothing was taken away from them. We said Juneteenth was going to be a collaborative event. We wanted them included.”

Mayor ProTem Tamisha Torres-Walker said she asked about what was happening for Juneteenth because the event was at one point paired with Celebrate Antioch’s car show and she thought it deserved to be on its own.

“I felt like Juneteenth is so historic for Black people and it has its own day for a reason,” she said.

“I made it clear that Juneteenth belongs to all Black people and we could have had two Juneteenth events and I think people would have appreciated it more.”

Celebrate Antioch, along with student organizer Claryssa Wilson and friends, wound up holding a “Let Freedom Ring” event at a Brentwood park while the city hosted its Juneteenth event at an Antioch park.

As for the July Fourth celebration, the Celebrate Antioch Foundation has been organizing and funding much of the $65,000 to $70,000 cost of the event for more than a decade after the city took a hiatus from paying for it during the recession.

However, the city has offered grants, which the nonprofit has used in the past to help pay for the fireworks, which cost about $35,000. Grants were also available this year.

Last year was different because the group was tapped by the city to plan the entire Sesquicentennial year of events, which culminated with a big Fourth of July celebration. The city gave the group $145,000 — including $25,000 in administration fees — to plan and put on a series of events in 2022 while the nonprofit kicked in some $56,000.

“The bottom line for our organization is Fourth of July takes immense planning; we start working on this like a year ahead of time,” Motts said. “It’s just a tremendous amount of time. And it really, you know, it’s a joint effort between our organization and the city.

“But you know, we’re in a position where we’re about to sign pretty big contracts and the board and officers just don’t feel confident that we have the support of the city to go forward.”

Even so, Motts praised Antioch Parks and Recreation Director Brad Helfenberger for working well with them and said she looks forward to working with him on some of the many other events they host, such as the Rivertown Art & Wine Walk, the Father’s Day Car Show and Holiday Delites celebration.

Thorpe said he hasn’t reached out to any other organization to host the July Fourth celebration. The only discussion about the celebration he recalled was more than a year ago when the City Council considered approving more funds — including administrative fees — for the nonprofit to plan and put on the entire Sesquicentennial series of events, marking Antioch’s 150th anniversary.

Thorpe added that it’s the city’s recreation department that handles all the city events as well as the civic enhancement grants, which Celebrate Antioch has received in the past.

“I don’t know what they’re talking about, because we literally have that civic enhancement grants program,” Thorpe said. “They’re supposed to apply for that money to get the grant.”

Motts said the group actually voted to “take a pause” on sponsoring and organizing the celebration last October. The mayor, meanwhile, said he was busy helping others campaign at that time and hadn’t even given a thought to the July Fourth event.

Motts herself was running for a council seat but wound up losing the tight race to incumbent Torres-Walker — whom Thorpe supported — after a recount in late December.

Motts would not say what organization reportedly was approached about hosting the July Fourth event, and she admitted she didn’t ask the city about its intentions. She did say, however, that board members and directors didn’t want to take a chance on spending money when the city might go in another direction.

“We have to protect the foundation, you know, and make sure that we can continue to put on our other events and celebrations for our community,” she said.

Torres-Walker meanwhile said she trusts the parks and recreation department will find a way to host a July Fourth celebration this summer, but she hopes Celebrate Antioch reconsiders.

“It’s unfortunate,” she said. “They’ve done the work for many years and, you know, every city has a Fourth of July event, and I wish we didn’t have to have to go find another contract.”