Byline: Ambrosia Brody
DIAMOND BAR — The South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQD) listened to testimony from residents of Huntington Beach, Newport Beach and surrounding cities, who cited reasons to either keep or remove fire rings from local beaches.
On March 28, air quality officials received three hours worth of public comments on the district’s proposal to implement a year-long ban on bonfires at beaches throughout Orange County and Los Angeles County. Of those 25 speakers, the majority spoke against the district’s proposal to ban bonfires, said Steve Bone, president and CEO of Huntington Beach Marketing & Visitors Bureau.
“We think it’s more of a local issue,” Bone said. “If Newport Beach wants to get rid of the fire rings, that’s fine for Newport Beach. But don’t ruin the cultural history of over 60 years of fire rings in Southern California that is enjoyed not just by the residents of Huntington Beach, but by the entire Southern California community — and both nationally and internationally.”
Huntington Beach’s Marketing & Visitors Bureau launched the “Save the Huntington Beach Bonfire Pits” when what started as a Newport Beach city matter morphed into a regional issue.
The Newport Beach City Council sought approval from the California Coastal Commission to remove all 60 beach fire rings — 33 near the Balboa Pier and 27 on Big Corona State Beach — when some local beachfront homeowners complained about smoke emitted during evening bonfires.
Coastal Commissioners did something they rarely do: they deferred to another authority on this issue, leaving it up to the SCAQD to decide whether to prohibit beach bonfires. The district has proposed to do just that, adding a one-year prohibition on wood burning at beaches in Los Angeles County and Orange County to the district’s regulation that pertains to open burning. (A decision is expected to be made at the district’s June 7 meeting.)
The district said its proposed year-long ban is an effort to protect public health — both on the beach and in residential and business areas immediately around the beach.
But the ban will affect cities such as Huntington Beach, where houses are not in close proximity to bonfires. A petition being circulated by the Huntington Beach Visitors and Marketing Bureau contends that “the removal of fire rings in the city of Huntington Beach alone would significantly decrease the number of annual visitors and result in a loss of $1 million annually in revenue to the city, from direct beach bonfire-related parking income.”
Bone reported that more than 5,600 people have signed the “Save the Huntington Beach Bonfire Pits” petition, and he expects to have as many as 20,000 signatures in time for the board’s May 3 meeting.
“We have not run into any person who wants the fire rings to go away,” Bone said. “Everyone loves them — and they are all shaking their heads as why anyone would want to get rid of them.”
City officials are trying to impress upon the board that no studies of air pollution or air pollutants from Huntington Beach fire rings have ever been conducted. “They are going at this blindly, and without due process,” Bone said.
The ban would also negatively affect California State Parks in Orange County, as they receive more than 11.9 million visitors annually, resulting in $19 million dollars in revenue. The beach parks could lose up to 50 percent of their camping revenue if the fire rings are prohibited, according to the petition.