By Andrea Papagianis
The Orange County Board of Supervisors has formally opposed a proposed ban on beach fires citing a municipality’s right to decide what is best for area residents.
“With the geographical differences between each beach in Orange County, a universal ban would impose a one-size-fits-all approach,” said Orange County supervisor John Moorlach.
At a meeting last week, supervisors moved forward an item establishing a position on the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s (SCAQMD) suggestion to eliminate wood burning fires from Orange and Los Angeles County beaches.
Chairman Shawn Nelson (4th district) abstained voting on the measure, because he represents Orange County on the SCAQMD board. Nelson said he did want to take a position on the proposal before the air district’s June 7 public hearing. The board is expected to rule on that date.
Citing public health concerns, the city of Newport Beach sought to remove dozens of fire rings from two beaches, Corona del Mar and Balboa, last year. The measure received City Council approval and went before the California Coastal Commission for approval. Ultimately the commission tabled its decision and air-quality regulators became involved earlier this spring.
Throughout its OC Parks, the county maintains 11 fire rings, seven at Aliso Beach, and four at Capistrano Beach. According to a staff report, the county has not received complaints from residents living near either beach over the course of 10 years.
Supervisor Todd Spitzer called the fire rings “sacred” and said it wasn’t right to “strip residents and visitors of their freedom” to enjoy this beach activity that is part of “our American fabric, our California lifestyle.”
Spitzer voted with the rest of the board—aside from Nelson—but went on record to say he did not agree that this was a local issue.
“I am generally a local control kind of person, but in the case it would be like saying, ‘Locals you don’t have to fly the flag if you don’t want to,’” he said, adding “What came first, fire rings or homes?” Spitzer said those living close to beaches should generally understand what living near fire rings entails.
While Nelson did not vote, he said the removal of fire rings had “nothing to do with” the district’s overall air-quality plan to get in line with federally implemented standards. The district—which includes parts of Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside counties and all of Orange County—plans to reach set air quality standards by 2015.
Nelson said the AQMD board was looking at possible substitutes to wood burning fires, including a natural or propane beach fire pilot program in Newport Beach. He added, there are parties here in Orange County ready to offer “creative solutions.”
“I hope Newport Beach will be provided some alternatives,” he said, “and if they are sincere that their desire is not to get certain undesirables off the beach, but to improve air quality, that they’ll embrace the opportunity.”
The air district’s governing board planned to discuss the issue at its meeting May 3, but postponed the public hearing until its June 7 meeting, scheduled for 9 a.m. at South Coast AQMD Headquarters, 21865 Copley Dr., Diamond Bar.
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