Call it "A Tale of Two City Takeaways:" Newport Beach and Huntington Beach's mayors, at opposite ends on whether to remove fire rings along their beaches, heard--and reacted differently to--state data indicating what's emitted from a pit over one evening equals the pollution spewed by a heavy duty diesel truck driving 564 miles.
Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido, who sits on the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) board, arranged a private meeting of several Orange County mayors Wednesday to digest agency data on fire-pit pollution.
Keith Curry, the mayor of Newport Beach, which got the ring-ban ball rolling due to resident complaints about the smoke, found the AQMD data supports his city's position.
"This is the first time we've ever been able to see any scientific data," Curry reportedly told City News Service. "I commend the AQMD who have laid out a fair assessment of the data."
But Connie Boardman, the mayor of Huntington Beach, where a line has figuratively been drawn in the sand to protect that city's pits, noted the AQMD data indicates Surf City's smoke is below the level that is considered unhealthy for those who are vulnerable to it.
And you get a sense she's prepared to release the hounds over any findings that do not support her city's desire to keep the fire rings. "The city wants a chance to look over the data and have it peer reviewed by our experts,'' she said. O.J.'s defense couldn't have put it better. If the smoke don't choke, you can't revoke!
She also hedged her bets should her experts ultimately fail at whitewashing harmful health data, saying, "If there are health risks to our residents there are a lot of solutions between nothing and banning the fire rings completely."
Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairman Shawn Nelson, who sits on the AQMD board and also attended the meeting, raised the possibility of replacing traditional wood-burning fire rings with propane-fueled flames. Boardman noted propane tanks could pose problems but was open to exploring the idea.
Curry, meanwhile, wanted it known that Newport Beach did not solicit AQMD intervention to support the city's position to remove it rings. Which brings up the one thing he and Boardman agree on: banning or keeping the pits should be up to individual cities rather than being imposed on them by state agencies.
The Orange County Board of Supervisors recently voted to oppose both bans and any decisions on fire rings not made by individual cities. The San Clemente City Council also voted this week against removing pits.
"The mayor of Huntington Beach and I have gotten along very well from the beginning of this,'' Curry said. "We're both supporters of letting the cities do it for themselves. They have a different take than us and we support their ability to manage their city as they see fit."
State law had exempted fire pits from laws regulating smoke from burning wood. When Newport Beach attempted to remove its rings along its beaches, the California Coastal Commission intervened with a staff report suggesting pits should stay because they are low-cost attractions for people all over wanting to enjoy an evening at the beach.
But that panel postponed a final decision pending findings from the AQMD, whose board and staff members have indicated the smoke could be hazardous, the exemption should be reexamined and the rings should possibly go.
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That prompted fears that a big, bad state agency--propelled by unwashed environmentalists--was trying to impose its will. Surf City-area politicians, chamber officials and other notables then locked arms around blazing fire rings to object to the affront.
But fire rings have also proven to be a liability in Huntington Beach, which has been sued in recent years--and lost at least one case that cost millions--by people who suffered injuries from falls onto the cement pits.
Pulido has scheduled a Friday night meeting at Huntington Beach City Hall to solicit public comment on fire pits. The AQMD board had been set to make a decision at a June 7 meeting but that may be rescheduled due to Pulido and Nelson having scheduling conflicts. The Coastal Commission has a meeting scheduled in July in Ventura when commissioners may discuss the issue, although panelists had been awaiting a firm decision from the AQMD to help guide them.