California JPIA Member San Juan Capistrano Hosts Drive-In Fireworks, Films

This July, the City of San Juan Capistrano, a member of the California Joint Powers Insurance Authority (California JPIA), embraced social distancing protocols with a drive-in 4th of July fireworks display and a series of drive-in movie events.

“When public agencies realize that successful events can occur within the socially distanced world—and how risk management can be a partner in the process—they can become more receptive to creative solutions,” said Sam Penrod, Human Resources and Risk Manager for the City of San Juan Capistrano.

The mission city’s 4th of July fireworks took place at the San Juan Sports Park, one of six main athletic field areas in the community. The facility includes four soccer fields, two baseball fields, and ample parking that allowed staff to ensure that social distancing was practical and achievable. Pre-registration for the fireworks display was mandatory, with in-person attendance limited to San Juan Capistrano residents. Attendees parked their vehicles in every other space to safely view the fireworks and were encouraged to stay in or by their vehicles and maintain proper social distancing for the duration of the display, which also was livestreamed on the city’s website for those who were unable or preferred not to attend in person.

Penrod says that planning and executing the event truly was a team effort.

“Community Services led the effort, with representatives from law enforcement, fire, public works, and risk management participating on the team,” said Penrod. “Everyone’s input was important; there was a free flow of information and great synergy.”

For the drive-in movie summer series, which took place at the Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park at San Juan Capistrano, the community partnered with a drive-in operator to show films including The Lego Movie and Ready Player One. The outdoor venue was operated by a smartphone-based system that allowed attendees to enjoy the experience without ever leaving their cars. Vehicles were parked in spaces at least eight feet apart, ensuring ample distance.

California JPIA Senior Risk Manager Alex Mellor, who acted as a sounding board and encouraged City staff to follow all applicable public health guidance, offers this advice for other member agencies planning similar events:

  1. Early in the planning process, recognize and embrace the fact that these non-traditional events will require creative solutions to be successful.
  2. Use applicable guidance from public health authorities as a framework for the events, rather than trying to get around the recommendations.
  3. Leverage expertise and resources inside and outside the organization. Successful events depend on effective collaboration between city departments, public health authorities, and the California JPIA.

All of these strategies, he said, allowed San Juan Capistrano to continue the annual tradition of a July 4th fireworks event while many other Orange County cities cancelled their celebrations.

Penrod noted that both of the events were initiated by the City Council, implemented by staff who were willing to adapt to changing circumstances, and supported by the California JPIA.

“The California JPIA is a tremendous resource,” said San Juan Capistrano Mayor Pro Tem John Taylor, who previously served as the city’s representative on the Authority’s Board of Directors. Taylor concluded, “They are a strong strategic partner and provided exceptional guidance to city staff, enabling our residents to safely enjoy a fireworks show and drive-in movie theater experience when it was needed most.”

Providing innovative risk management solutions for its public agency partners for more than 40 years, the California Joint Powers Insurance Authority (California JPIA) is one of the largest municipal self-insurance pools in the state, with more than 100 member cities and other governmental agencies. Members actively participate in shaping the organization to provide important coverage for their operations. The California JPIA provides innovative risk management solutions through a comprehensive portfolio of programs and services, including liability, workers’ compensation, pollution, property, and earthquake coverage, as well as extensive risk management training and loss control services. For more information, please visit the California JPIA’s website at