See Update No. 2 on page 2 about a proposal from the mayors of Santa Ana and Newport Beach to reduce the number of fire rings in the beach city and convert some remaining into cleaner-burning pits. Update No. 1 on the next page is about air-quality regulators softening their hardline stance before this afternoon's town hall meeting.
ORIGINAL POST, JUNE 5, 8 A.M.: The South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD), whose board could vote on whether to ban beach bonfires at a July meeting, will collect public sentiments on the burning issue June 13 in Newport Beach. That's fitting since Newport Beach set the events in motion that led to the AQMD getting involved in the first place.
And yet, Newport Beach Mayor Keith Curry, who favors removing the cement fire rings from his shoreline, had expressed no interest in hosting the AQMD. Anyone else confused?
Curry also opposes state agencies such as the AQMD and California Coastal Commission dictating what he and others, including fire-ring supporters in neighboring Huntington Beach, see as a local issue.
After the Newport Beach City Council decided it wanted to get rid of its 60 pits because the smoke they generate bothers nearby residents and the accidents they pose generate lawsuits against the city, the Coastal Commission essentially said not so fast, we need to permit that.
A commission-staff report advocated keeping Newport's fire rings in place because they are cheap attractions for visitors to the beach, including those who live outside the upscale city. Some have alleged that's Newport Beach's real goal, to keep crowds of inlanders away. (See earlier debates on regulating fishing from its piers.)
Coastal commissioners decided to hold off on a final vote pending findings from the AQMD. Some AQMD board members and staffers have indicated the smoke from fire rings may pollute and pose health problems.
If the AQMD imposes a ban or strongly recommends one in July, the Coastal Commission could follow with its own vote later that month, possibly in Ventura.
One idea the AQMD has tossed around–and Curry has said Newport Beach would be willing to entertain–is changing the pits from wood-burning to the cleaner gas.
Meanwhile, Huntington Beach has launched an all-out assault to stop what it deems a state threat to fire rings. The county Board of Supervisors has seconded that emotion, as has the San Clemente City Council. The council in Costa Mesa, which has no beach, was scheduled to discuss the matter last night. Earlier in the day, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to oppose a state ban and support local control over beach pits.
The goal of the AQMD “Public Consultation Meeting,” according to the state agency, is “to present and solicit information and suggestions from the public regarding Proposed Amended Rule 444-Open Burning. Adoption of the Proposed Amendments will reduce public exposure to fine and coarse particulate emissions from open burning at beach areas.”
If adopted, beach bonfires would be banned beginning June 1, 2014, according to the AQMD.
The local meeting is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. June 13 at the Hyatt Regency, 1107 Jamboree Rd., Newport Beach. Another is set for the following day at the El Segundo Embassy Suites.
UPDATE NO. 1, JUNE 10, 12:17 P.M.: The AQMD has released a new proposal that would allow beach fire rings as long as they are at least 700 feet from the nearest residence, spaced 100 feet apart, or 50 feet apart if there are no more than 15 rings in a city, according to documents released Friday.
Under the plan, Huntington Beach would have to remove or relocate 30 fire rings because they'd be too close to a mobile-home park, or the city could space them farther apart.
The proposal also excludes pits at Doheny beach, which is part of a state park. Meanwhile, the AQMD is exploring the use of grant money to convert some rings from burning wood to propane or natural gas.
All this now rolls into Thursday's town hall in Newport Beach.
UPDATE NO. 2, JUNE 13, 8:57 A.M.: Coming to this afternoon's town hall is a plan developed by Newport Beach Mayor Keith Curry and Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido, who also serves on the South Coast AQMD board, to restrict fire rings in Newps and have that city participate in a pilot program allowing 10 pits fueled by natural or propane gas.
Pulido's AQMD board is scheduled on July 12 to consider allowing cities to prohibit bonfires if they prove to be a public nuisance. But those who allow pits would have to space them at least 700 feet away from the nearest residence and 100 feet apart, unless the city has 15 or fewer rings, in which case they could be at least 50 feet apart.
The smoke that comes out of those bonfires would also have to adhere to state pollution standards, meaning it cannot exceed 100 fine particulates on the air quality index.
The way things are headed, a Newport Beach with fewer fire rings might create more demand at the state beach in Huntington Beach, Huntington Beach Community Relations Officer Laurie Frymire observed to City News Service.
Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.