Dec. 12--SAN BERNARDINO -- Weeks of behind-the-scenes work and advocacy failed to bring back one Christmas event -- but now there are two, which organizers hope will bring the same cheer.
Police, pointing to financial and safety concerns, announced last month that the Ho Ho Parade, a longtime city tradition, was canceled. The parade featured police, firefighters and other volunteers who flashed lights as they drove three separate routes over three consecutive days handing out candy.
But they now say they would instead have two nights of events at Court Street Square next to City Hall.
Meanwhile, a group of residents has organized their own version of the parade, which they're calling the Community Ho Ho Parade to differentiate it and allow the police to possibly bring back their event in the future.
That parade will be limited to 25 vehicles, which also are to be driven over three routes in order to cover as much ground as possible. The routes were going to be finalized Wednesday night by a committee of residents associated with neighborhood groups, car clubs and others.
Already, 208 people have joined the "Save Santa's Ho Ho Parade" Facebook group, and logistical details are also being finalized.
"It's not about us," said Alfred Rodriguez, an insurance specialist who's a leader of the group. "It's about the people in the community and the children. That's what we're doing it for, what it all boils down to."
Interim Police Chief Jarrod Burguan met with the group Tuesday, and said the citizens could go on with their parade as long as they stayed within certain limits such as not blasting the sirens on the firetruck they got their hands on.
That meeting came a day after a group of employees at City Hall met with him, also trying to bring back the parade.
"Once I explained all the reasons, they understood why we couldn't do it anymore, at least this year," Burguan said. "We probably just didn't explain everything well enough to the public when we first made the decision."
Contrary to public perception, Burguan said, fuel and incidental expenses weren't the only costs to the parade -- many of the police participating were paid for their time and took time off from their regular duties to avoid going into overtime, something that earned some criticism last year after the city filed for bankruptcy and every dime became contested.
"We have some volunteers, but the ones providing safety have always been compensated," he said.
Also, because it's a not a closed parade route, the law and safety concerns wouldn't allow people riding without seat belts, he said.
"It probably was a great idea in the '70s, but this is a more litigious time," he said. "And if there was an accident and someone was hurt, how would we ever justify that?"
Motorcycle escorts have traditionally blocked streets off as the parade passed, and they'll also be used in the Community Ho Ho Parade this year, said organizer Deb Matley.
"We have all kinds of support, and a great thing about it is we're keeping it from getting political," Matley said.
Advocates of the parade say one advantage of covering so much of the city is that it involves children who aren't able to get downtown.
To re-create that, The Way World Outreach is volunteering a bus service that will pick up children from community centers, said Sgt. Vicki Cervantes, who's organizing the downtown event.
Other additions include a contest with Christmas trees as prizes and a Christmas movie, while Santa Claus will also be at Court Street Square.
There's no competition between the two events, Burguan said.
"We wish them the best of luck," Burguan said.
And at least two of the tentative parade routes end at Court Street Square, with the intention of funneling people from one to the other.
The parade will start at 7 p.m. -- an hour after vehicles will start assembling -- on Tuesday, Wednesday and on Dec. 19, and the Court Street celebration lasts from 6 to 9 p.m. on Dec. 18 and 19.
If the hurdles can be overcome, police sponsorship might return, Burguan said.
Either way, Rodriguez said there's now a committed group of people who plan to meet beginning in January to have a great parade in 2014 and years to come.
"We plan on this thing getting larger and larger," he said. "I know we had to scrape it up and put it together real fast, but we just want the people of San Bernardino to know we still have hope for our children. Just like Jesus gives me hope, Santa Claus gives the children of San Bernardino hope."
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