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BREAKING: AQMD Board Votes 7-6 to Impose New Restrictions on Beach Bonfires

BREAKING, JULY 12, 1 P.M.: The South Coast AQMD Governing Board just voted 7-6 to impose new restrictions on beach bonfires. More details at the bottom of the next page.

ORIGINAL POST, JULY 11, 3:05 P.M.: Proponents (professional and otherwise) of beach fire rings are lighting a fire under the public to attend Friday morning's South Coast Air Quality Management District Governing Board (AQMD) meeting in Diamond Bar--or at least sway pollution regulators to keep their mitts off the pits. Results of a push poll were released this afternoon, a state legislator made a special plea to get butts into seats at the meeting and free shuttle service to Diamond Bar was previously announced. How's this for "scars" aligning: a lawsuit by a child burned when he fell into a Huntington Beach bonfire may have settled before the AQMD gathering.

The push to ban fire rings started in Newport Beach, which is also the home of Friends of the Fire Rings, "a coalition of individuals, small businesses, and families representing a variety of age, ethnic, political, and socio-economic groups, working together to save the fire rings in California."

They backed a survey done in Orange County over the last week that found there is "overwhelming support for not removing the fire rings," citing figures of 89 percent for versus 7.4 percent against. Even when isolating Newport Beach, "the ground-zero of the debate," residents there wanted the rings to stay 86 percent to 8.4 percent, according to the results.

(Keep in mind the survey was done by Lewis Consulting Group, which was founded by former slimy Orange County Republican state legislator John Lewis. It was claimed to be fielded July 2-9 among 250 Newport Beach residents and 250 Orange County residents living outside of Newport Beach. The overall margin of error is said be +/- 4.75%.)

"The survey is a devastating blow to the credibility of the petition and case put forward by the Newport Beach city staff to the Coastal Commission, and, subsequently, before the AQMD, as they have created an illusion for months now that Newport Beach residents are supportive of their petition," says Tom Sweatt, a longtime Newport Beach resident and co-leader of Friends of the Fire Rings, in a statement that accompanied the results.

"The survey proves just the opposite: Newport Beach voters disagree with their city's position by a huge margin, and are willing to assume the miniscule health risks associated with the fire rings so that the public and visitors will be able to enjoy this American tradition that has become as important to our culture as apple pie! The city staff has an obligation now to make this point home at tomorrow's AQMD hearing."

Sweatt, his group--and apparently those polled--are also no fans of the "alternate" proposal to convert wood-burning pits into clean-gas versions. "Everyone sees through the city's charade-which is being advanced with flawed and inconclusive science," Sweatt says. "The survey shows Newport Beach residents see the 'gas alternative' as 'silly and expensive' (80.4 percent) vs. those that think this is 'fair' (7.8 percent)."

The poll results, which are posted on SaveTheFireRings.org, also reportedly show that of those surveyed, 82 percent believe the AQMD should allow all fire rings in Orange County to remain as they are today, while 9.6 percent believe only the Newport Beach fire rings should be removed and 4 percent believe all OC fire rings should be removed.

"It comes as no surprise," says Shawn Nelson, who chairs the Orange County Board of Supervisors that voted to protect the bonfires as well as the AQMD board considering their fate tomorrow. "The effort to remove fire rings from the beach in Newport is and always was an effort to remove the public from the beach and provide an exclusive domain for a very select few. Health issues are not related to this effort and have merely provided a convenient diversion."
 
Assemblyman Travis Allen, the Huntington Beach Republican who has been holding weekend bonfires to fire up the masses, issued a plea this afternoon urging residents to travel to Diamond Bar for the hearing.

"Simply put, we are talking about unelected bureaucrats trying to ban a cultural and historical tradition in our local communities," Allen says in a statement from his office that also invites the media to attend.

Christ, have Republicans ever invited the LSM to attend anything? Moving on ...

"We need to make our voices heard to show that we will not accept any attempts to ban beach bonfires," Allen says later in the release. "Beach bonfires are part of our lifestyle that has been passed down from generation to generation, and we will fight to keep them. When it comes to the ruling tomorrow on July 12, our message will be loud and clear: 'Our bonfire rings are here to stay.'"

Other local politicians, including Huntington Beach Mayor Connie Boardman, and chambers of commerce types are also expected to attend and confront the board. One of the slick PR firms this coalition has hired previously announced free shuttle rides from Huntington Beach City Hall to the South Coast AQMD Auditorium at 21865 Copley Drive, Diamond Bar. Fingers-crossed those shuttles use alternatives to petroleum.

Hot discussions about fire rings have also been heard in Orange County courthouses, where people who have been injured striking the cement structures or even fallen into them while ablaze (which can apply to the pits or the victims in some cases) have sued the beach cities that host them.

One such soul is Seth Richardson, who was 6 on April 17, 2011, when he was flying a kite on the beach and fell into a smoldering pit in Huntington Beach, burning his arm and chest. He was later treated at UC Irvine Regional Burn Center, and his family filed a $500,000 claim with Surf City, which rejected it.

That led to a lawsuit that appears to have been settled, reports the Huntington Beach Independent.

No need to save Seth a seat on the bus.

UPDATE, JULY 12, 1 P.M.: Today's 7-6 vote by the South Coast Air Quality Management District Governing Board (AQMD) does not ban fire rings--unless they are located within 700 feet of homes.

They must also be at least 100 feet apart--or at least 50 feet apart if a city has 15 or fewer. The AQMD measure also includes restrictions on beach fires on high-pollution days and includes pilot programs for fire rings powered by natural or propane gas instead of wood. This all becomes effective in March 2014.

Under these guidelines, Huntington City Beach, Bolsa Chica State Beach, Aliso Beach County Park and San Clemente and North Beach there will not be affected.

But Huntington State Beach will have to remove about 30 fire rings within 700 feet of a mobile home park. Fire rings at Corona del Mar State Beach, Balboa Beach and Capistrano Beach Park will also have to move or remove some fire rings.

Doheny State Beach will be most affected because homes are within 700 feet of pits there.

Newport Beach could install 10 fire rings fueled by propane or natural gas instead of wood, under a proposal hammered out by Mayor Keith Curry and AQMD board member Miguel Pulido, who is also Santa Ana's mayor. But the plan must be approved by the Newport Beach City Council, whose Councilwoman Leslie Daigle has already signaled her opposition.

Daigle says some firefighters think the cleaner-burning pits proposal is "lame and dangerous," reports City News Service.

'The QMD board heard today from a stream of supporters, many bused in from OC, seeking to save what they characterized as a 60-year-old, mom/apple pie/America tradition.

But board members, who explained early on they have a mandate to protect the lungs of the most sensitive, were looking at a June staff report that stated particulate pollution was high in Corona del Mar and Huntington Beach from the bonfires.

The board said it must ensure state and federal laws concerning particulate emissions are followed, tradition or no. The restrictions are essential to preventing excess pollution, according to AQMD board member Josie Gonzales, who is also a San Bernardino County supervisor.

"It does not jeopardize the existence or the use of the fire pits," she said. "And it is imperative that protecting the public health be a priority beyond being popular."

But before the vote, Pulido predicted pits may not be alone in being effected.

"If we vote for this rule," he told his colleagues, "we're going to be the ones who are damaged."

Email: mcoker@ocweekly.com. Twitter: @MatthewTCoker. Follow OC Weekly on Twitter @ocweekly or on Facebook!


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