SAN DIEGO — The flames may have been turned up higher in the debate over whether dozens of fire rings -- nostalgic to some, bothersome to others -- should be removed from two popular beaches in Balboa and Corona del Mar.
While the Coastal Commission agreed Wednesday to delay its vote on the fate of the fire rings, state air quality officials indicated they would take up the bonfire issue later this spring as part of a debate that could affect beach cities along the entire California coastline.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, March 12, 2013 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 2 inches; 69 words Type of Material: Correction
Beach bonfires: An article on beach fire rings in the March 7 LATExtra section said the South Coast Air Quality Management District would meet in May to consider whether the rings should still be exempted from the state's regulations on wood-burning devices. The agency will meet to consider its own regulations of the fire rings, but because it is a regional agency, its rules do not have authority statewide.
Residents in Newport Beach, with the support of the city, said that the fire pits had become a public nuisance and that the smoke billowing from the beach campfires can be choking.
But Coastal Commission staffers have recommended keeping the fire rings as a free attraction for beachgoers and a symbol of full public access. Some commissioners on Wednesday seemed to reject the city's proposal to install volleyball courts, playgrounds and covered picnic areas as a tradeoff.
"This is really a way of controlling the public," said Commissioner Esther Sanchez. "The suggestions that have been made about what kind of recreation activities that could be put in place are really geared toward local residents."
The debate over beach fires, though, may be on the cusp of going statewide.
The South Coast Air Quality Management District said this week that it would meet in May to consider whether fire rings should be more heavily restricted and no longer exempted from the state's crackdown on wood-burning devices.
"We spent millions and millions and millions of dollars in research to find out what the cause and effect of this stuff is," said Commissioner William Burke, who also serves on the South Coast AQMD board. He said it was well established that wood smoke can lead to health problems.
While some spoke of the tradition of the bonfire along the oceanfront, others had a less romantic view.
Corona del Mar resident John Hamilton said that he was recently diagnosed with emphysema, and that the fire rings should go the same way as Lucky Strike cigarettes and riding in the bed of a pickup truck.
"I love nostalgia; I collect nostalgia," he said. "However, for me, the health of my fellow friends and neighbors is more important."