The City of Newport Beach, which in March 2012 lit what has become a burning statewide issue to save or permanently douse beach bonfires, is now withdrawing its application to remove 60 smoky cement holes. In a letter to the California Coastal Commission, whose staff recently (and for the second time this year) recommended against removing fire rings, City Manager Dave Kiff writes Newps may revise its application and explore non-wood burning ring options. He acknowledges any city move may be rendered moot by state pollution regulators anyway.
In the year since the Newport Beach City Council voted to remove its pits after complaints from residents with hacking coughs near Balboa Pier and CdM State Beach, this has become a classic battle between Orange County's old guard, country club Republicans and the modern-day teabaggers.
Bonfire foes have been portrayed as Chardonnay-sipping NIMBYs who wear their cashmere sweaters over the shoulders of their pink polos as they complain about the "darkies" burning tires on what the residents consider private beaches. (They aren't.)
Lords over the rings took some initial swipes at Newport Beach for perceived insincerely in citing environmental and public-health concerns when calling for removal, but proponents with buggy Michele Bachmann eyes soon targeted bigger game: state bureaucrats (read: liberals).
That came in the form of the perfect Hannityesque foil: an old sod who sat on the state boards of the Coastal Commission and the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD). He let it be known that he opposed fire rings before the matter was thoroughly investigated and public commented. And get off his damn lawn!
Fortunately for Newport Beach, the heat was thus off the city as you could almost hear the bellowing of a salty dog in motley American Revolution-era white wig, his pot belly busting out the buttons of his waistcoast: "This here is a move to nanny state our beaches and our freedoms. Have you read the Constitution? I have! It clearly states that no man can take away my liberty to roast weenies on the beach at sundown. It's right there in black and white, after the part about me having the right to bear bazookas."
The City of Huntington Beach, soon feeling the squeeze from the non-stinky side of the Santa Ana River mouth, harumphed and harumphed and together with chamber types galvanized opposition to thwarting our God-given freedom to burn shit up. Soon the county Board of Supervisors and legislators who hate immigrants piled on. Surely Jay Leno must've sneaked in a joke or three.
Santa Ana's mayor, finding an issue that diverts attention from the burning issues in his own city that he routinely ignores, got his counterparts from Newps, Surf City and elsewhere together with AQMD regulators and other pressed suits to try to hash this all out. By then you could sense the original city's opposition to rings waning.
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Kiff's letter to Coastal Commish deputy director Sherilyn Sarb became inevitable. It's actually brilliant because if the AQMD goes on to remove (unlikely) or relocate and end the burning of non-clean fuel on beaches (possible), Newport Beach officials can say, "Gosh darn it, we tried there at the end to protect our 60 rings but those state guys--who we all hate, right?--came in and made us do what we originally wanted to do even though we don't want to do it anymore."
Talking about these suckers on the state level keeps getting pushed back and forth and every which way, but as it stands currently the Coastal Commission is scheduled to bat fire rings around again July 11 in Ventura City Hall. The AQMD is scheduled to weigh in--possibly with a recommendation for mandatory buffer zones between fire rings and houses--the next day.
'Cause it ain't over 'til the fat bureaucrat sings!