Wednesday, May 1, 2013
Will Southern California Ban Beach Bonfires?
Classes are coming to an end. Summer will soon shine on us, and with it the seductive sounds of ocean waves crashing on the beaches. Life is a beach: Huntington Beach, Laguna Beach, Newport Beach, Seal Beach. We are attracted to the ocean to swim, surf, walk along the shoreline, chase the waves,catch a tan, show off a body, or collect rocks and shells. A few will skip pebbles across the surface of the water. Families come during the day to picnic and play along the beach. Later in the afternoon, into the evening, the young come – the teenagers and college students. In a rite of passage going back generations, they collect driftwood and start a bonfire. Maybe they roast marshmallows or perhaps hotdogs. They drink beer and wine or smoke a joint or two. Some will engage in public displays of affection, perhaps snuggling under blankets, while huddled around the fire. Oh, the memories of Judah Beach (Ocean Beach) in San Francisco in a simpler time. I don’t live by the beach anymore. I live in Orange County in Southern California ten miles from the Pacific, and not the Richmond or Sunset Districts in San Francisco. Perhaps no more beach bonfires in Southern California. Los Angeles and Orange County beach cities offer “fire rings” for the bonfires, a tradition since the late 1940”s or early 50’s. Neighbors in Newport Beach, the ones who could afford to purchase or lease homes near the beach have complained. They don’t want others, the public, the hoi polloi, to enjoy the pleasures of the public beaches. They can’t ban the people, or restrict access, but they can take some of the fun away. The Newport Beach City Council petitioned the California Coastal Commission for permission to remove the city's 60 fire rings from Balboa Pier and Corona Del Mar State Beach. Newport Beach is highly affluent as you might remember from The O.C. and Arrested Development. Corona Del Mar is legally part of Newport Beach, but likes to go by the cachet CDM to avoid confusion with its poor neighbors in Newport Beach. The city fathers of Newport Beach claim maintaining the fire rings cost them $50,000 annually, the wood smoke poses a health threat, such as to asthmatics, and they face liability issues. The staff of the California Coastal Commission recommended in March a denial of the Newport Beach application. Part of the charge of the CCC is to promote beach access and low cost recreational facilities. The fire rings offer diverse groups access to a “unique recreational area.” So popular are the fire rings that lines start forming at 6:00am to claim a spot during popular holiday weekends. The Southern California Air Quality Management District (AQMD) regulates air quality in Los Angeles and Orange County. It adopted a regulation in 2008 banning fireplaces in new residential and commercial properties. However, it exempted beach bonfires and campfires from the ban. The AQMD’s staff on March 15 proposed a year round ban on open bonfires on Los Angeles and Orange County beaches. The Coastal Commission’s Board thereupon voted to delay a decision until after the AQMD made a decision. The agency’s staff, the American Lung Association, the Woods Institute for the Environment, and the American Board of Internal Medicine, Pulmonary Medicine and Critical Care Medicine support the recommendation. The Orange County Board of Supervisors, Santa Ana, and Huntington Beach support the fire rings. Huntington Beach claims a ban would cost it over $1 million annually. much of its economy is based on beach tourism. The fire rings are popular with tourists, especially those living between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. By way of contrast with Southern California, the Bay Area AQMD bans these fires during winter. Ocean Beach is part of the federal Golden Gate National Recreational Area, which limits bonfires to a small stretch with fire rings and bans them during days of bad air quality and after 10:00pm. That’s when we were just warming up! The National Park Service also bans alcohol from the beach. The ambience is gone from Judah Beach. The AQMD, which sits inland in Diamond Bar, has tentatively scheduled June 7 to determine the burning issue.