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Orange County supervisors to weigh in on beach fire ring ban

April 22, 2013|By Jill Cowan
  • Fire pits like this one in Newport Beach face a ban for air quality reasons.
Fire pits like this one in Newport Beach face a ban for air quality reasons. (Amy Senk / For the Daily Pilot )

Residents fighting a proposed ban on beach fire rings could find the Orange County Board of Supervisors in their corner.

A staff report for Tuesday's meeting recommends that the supervisors vote to formally oppose the ban, which, if approved, could snuff out fire pits throughout Orange and Los Angeles counties.

Instead, the report advises the supervisors to support "an option that provides greater flexibility" for cities to determine whether or not wood smoke generated by the fires poses enough of a health risk to justify removing the rings, which many argue have provided generations of beach visitors summer fun.

"The county supports a municipality's right to decide the future of its fire rings as this is a local control issue," the report says. "Local jurisdictions are best able to decide what is in the best interests of the community and its residents."

The county operates 11 fire rings at two beaches: Aliso Beach in Laguna Beach, which has seven fire rings, and Capistrano Beach, with four.

But the supervisors' vote would have the board wading into a heated regional debate that could potentially have implications statewide.

After the city of Newport Beach asked the California Coastal Commission to remove its 60 fire rings near the Balboa Pier and at Corona del Mar State Beach, citing negative health effects on beach neighbors, the South Coast Air Quality Management District took up the issue.

Its proposed ban on open burning on all beaches within its jurisdiction sparked a new flurry of debate — and controversy.

The city of Huntington Beach, with the support of a long line of residents, has cited the tourist dollars its roughly 500 fire rings bring and has pleaded with the district to consider a more localized approach.

That approach is one that garnered support from Newport Beach officials, who have said that each community's situation is different.

The debate grabbed the attention of Assemblyman Allan Mansoor (R-Costa Mesa) and state Sen. Mimi Walters (R-Irvine), who have spoken out against the proposed ban.

In a letter, they called for the resignation of Chairman William Burke from the air quality management board, saying his simultaneous service as a Coastal Commissioner posed a conflict of interest.

Burke has been a vocal proponent of the ban; at a recent meeting, he drew criticism by comparing smoke from Newport Beach's fire rings with "carpet bombing" in Vietnam.

In a surprise move, Burke resigned from the Coastal Commission and remains in place on the SCAQMD board. That group is scheduled to consider the ban at its June 7 meeting.

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 jill.cowan@latimes.com

Twitter: @jillcowan

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