Who knew the California Coastal Commission was lord of the rings?
Fire rings, that is.
Specifically, the 60 fire pits the City of Newport Beach wants removed from the Balboa Pier area and Corona del Mar State beaches because they are proving to be a liability in these sue-happy times.
But the Coastal Commission agenda not only reveals the matter will be before the panel meeting at the Bahia Resort Hotel in San Diego on March 6, but that the commission staff is recommending a rejection of the city's plea.
Fire rings have been part of Newport Beach coastal life since the late 1940s or early 1950s, and their existence as a low-cost recreation amenity draws a diverse group of folks to a unique recreational area, notes the commission staff report. Removing the pits thus runs counter to the spirit of the state Coastal Act, the staff finds. That law is aimed at ensuring the coast and its historic amenities are not destroyed by development, add-ons and, yes, the removal of stuff like giant cement doughnuts used for burning firewood, driftwood, lumber, pallets, beer cans, plastic six-pack holders, spent condoms, titanium engine blocks, marriage licenses, sacrificed virgins and so much more.
That commission staff's position is fine, counters Newport Beach officials, but it is the city that is stuck with the tab of paying to maintain something that is, frankly, used more by out-of-towners than local, taxpaying voters. It costs about $50,000 annually to maintain the rings and much more in insurance premiums when the city is sued by someone injured while using or avoiding the pits. Such litigation has increased so much lately you'd suspect Western State is cranking out personal-injury lawyers who specialize in that field.
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Look, the Coastal Commission was empowered by the state to ensure the Coastal Act is not violated, but the Newport Beach City Council is empowered by the Irvine Co., I mean, residents to protect their interests, which extends to healthy city coffers.
It also extends to lungs in Nouveau Riche. As noted by longtime City Councilwoman Nancy Gardner, an even longer-time coastal environmentalist, smoke from the rings tends to pollute skies and respiratory systems. She is backed up by the American Lung Association, the South Coast Air Quality Management District, the Woods Institute for the Environment and the American Board of Internal Medicine, Pulmonary Medicine and Critical Care Medicine, which all sent the Coastal Commission letters supporting the removal of the rings.
Corona del Mar's Barbara Peters recently told the Orange County Register's Deepa Bharath there is also an annoyance factor with fire pits. Their clouds set off her smoke alarms.