Smoke clears, fire rings pre­vail

Coastal Com­mis­sion lets New­port Beach keep 64 of them in a com­pro­mise de­ci­sion.

Los Angeles Times - - THE STATE - By Hannah Fry hannah.fry@la­times.com Twit­ter: @Han­nahFryTCN

It’s taken a few years, but it fi­nally looks as if New­port Beach will get to keep its beach­front fire rings.

The Cal­i­for­nia Coastal Com­mis­sion on Thurs­day gave the city per­mis­sion to re­con­fig­ure 64 fire rings, al­low­ing half of them to burn wood and the other half to burn char­coal.

The vote ended about two years of de­bate among New­port Beach res­i­dents, city lead­ers and other gov­ern­ment agen­cies over the place­ment and num­ber of the rings.

“It’s a big weight off our shoul­ders,” New­port Beach Mayor Ed­ward Selich said. “The whole sit­u­a­tion hasn’t been good for the dy­nam­ics of our city.”

One of the main is­sues has been whether the rings should burn wood or char­coal.

Sev­eral res­i­dents who live near the fire rings urged the com­mis­sion to con­tinue the char­coal-only pol­icy, cit­ing re­s­pi­ra­tory prob­lems and car­cino­gens stem­ming from wood smoke.

But oth­ers re­buffed the idea of sit­ting around a char­coal-burning fire pit on a chilly evening.

“No­body wants to hud­dle around a We­ber,” Bal­boa Penin­sula res­i­dent Mike Glenn said.

The com­mis­sion voted 9 to 1 to au­tho­rize the city’s per­ma­nent plan, which in­cludes 16 wood-burning and 16 char­coal-burning rings in the Bal­boa Pier area and eight wood-burning rings at the New­port Dunes Wa­ter­front Re­sort & Ma­rina.

Com­mis­sioner Mark Var­gas dis­sented on grounds that he didn’t want to re­duce the num­ber of wood-burning rings.

“We’re not just talk­ing about the city of New­port Beach, we’re talk­ing about the public that comes here,” he said. “This will be a se­vere limit on the tra­di­tional way South­ern Cal­i­for­nia res­i­dents en­joy th­ese beaches.”

The chal­lenge over how to con­fig­ure the fire rings was sparked in July 2013, when the South Coast Air Qual­ity Man­age­ment Dis­trict voted to re­quire a 700foot buf­fer be­tween bon­fires and homes and to des­ig­nate “no-burn days” when fine par­tic­u­lates are at un- health­ful lev­els.

The pol­icy is the re­sult of an ini­tial pro­posal that would have banned all beach bon­fires in Or­ange and Los An­ge­les coun­ties.

In re­sponse, New­port Beach be­gan en­forc­ing an or­di­nance that limited fuel in fire rings to char­coal, which the AQMD con­sid­ers cleaner-burning than wood.

But the Coastal Com­mis­sion did not ap­prove of the change, say­ing char­coal is more ex­pen­sive than wood and might de­ter peo­ple from us­ing the rings.

New­port Beach has been stuck in the mid­dle.

Com­mis­sion staff said Thurs­day that although a char­coal fire ring ex­pe­ri­ence is not the same as a tra­di­tional wood bon­fire, the city is try­ing to keep fire rings a low-cost recre­ational ac­tiv­ity un­der the man­dates of the Cal­i­for­nia Coastal Act while also com­ply­ing with the AQMD’s rule that the rings be spaced far enough apart that they don’t af­fect air qual­ity.

The AQMD in­di­cated it ap­proved of the city’s plan.

“It’s a rea­son­able com­pro­mise,” Com­mis­sioner Greg Cox said.

Gary Fried­man Los An­ge­les Times

AF­TER YEARS of de­bate, the Cal­i­for­nia Coastal Com­mis­sion agreed to al­low New­port Beach to main­tain 32 rings that burn wood and 32 that use char­coal.

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