Are People Who Want to Ban OC's Beach Fire Rings Racist?

When we first started to cover the issue of NIMBYers trying to have OC's beach fire pits banned, friends immediately cried racism, pointing to the legendary incident last decade that found Corona del Mar councilmember Dick Nichols claiming there were too many Mexicans occupying the neighborhood's grass near the beach. For once, I dismissed the gabacho card: Corona del Mar people hate ANYONE who doesn't live there, regardless of color.

But as an epic meeting at the Diamond Bar headquarters of the South Coast Air Quality Management District gets ready to rumble ma├▒ana, it's time to examine the issue, especially with the people who created this mess in the first place: Corona del Marens (Marites? Maranians? Coroners?). In the beginning of last year, they wrote letters to the Newport Beach Parks, Beaches, and Recreation Commission urging the removal of Corona del Mar's fire pits. And while most of the requests claimed health, more than a few claimed in coded language that minorities were messing up their pristine beaches.


Here are a sample of the letters sent, followed by our commentary:

“…I understand that historically they have provided family fun and barbecues. However, now, they attract gangs, crime, drugs and most importantly are a health hazard to local and non-local residents…”

–Tom and Jill Schriber

We understand that the fire rings still provide family fun and barbecues. And Gangs, crime, and drugs has been attracted to everything since Cain met Abel.

“Unlike normal beaches, having fire rings allow these visitors to stay into the dark hours. I cannot say crime is increased, but it makes it easier when there is darkness to commit such acts. The correlation is that if we did not have fire rings, people would be far less likely to stay around the beach after sunset and therefore there is less possibility of crime.”

–Justin Edson

The correlation here is that if we banned nighttime, therefore there is less possibility of crime.

“Years ago the fire rings were populated by families roasting hotdogs and marshmallows. Today I see a minimal use by families and a surge of young adults trying to leap over the roaring bonfires as a passage of manhood.”

–Tod and Peggie Parrott

What they're unwittingly describing is the fire-jumping part of Nowruz, the Persian New Year. After my initial story, many of my Persian friends said that the ban effort was directed at them, since they go down to Corona del Mar every year to partake in the fire-jumping. It's progress: for once, the brown-skinned people that Newporters hate aren't Mexicans!

“The fire rings attract individuals who are involved in gang activities and their sole purpose is to cause trouble including fights requiring police response.”

–Daniel J. Leonard

This comment is probably the most illuminating. Leonard wrote in his capacity as president of the Breakers Drive Homeowners Association, which means his thoughts represent the thoughts of nearly everyone on Breakers Drive (the neighborhood closest to the fire rings in CdM). Just like the Schribers, Leonard claims there's now an uptick of gang members without offering any proof of increased crime, or that they somehow are keeping good families away. And last I checked, cholos have every right to toast S'mores on the beach like the rest of us.

I'm sure there are many, many more examples buried in the public comments section of previous Newport Beach City Council and AQMD meetings (and just read the comments left on other news organizations that have covered the case), but the above examples suffice. I still maintain class is the main issue at hand–Gustavo not crying bigotry for once? Progress!

Email: ga*******@oc******.com. Twitter: @gustavoarellano.

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