Bonfire bill moves to Senate Appropriations Committee

SACRAMENTO—A bill to protect bonfires burning along Southern California beaches passed unanimously out of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources, June 24.

In a 7-0 bipartisan vote, lawmakers pushed through AB1102, which may help preserve beach fire rings in the area. The bill is backed by co-sponsor Assemblyman Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach) who has been a strong advocate of maintaining inexpensive recreation to the local community. The bill now moves forward to the Senate Appropriations Committee before going to the full state Senate.

“Beach bonfires are an activity enjoyed by people from all across California, including those who cannot afford multi-million dollar beachfront homes,” Allen said. “This legislation will ensure that every Californian has access to our beautiful beaches through the irreplaceable attraction of a beach bonfire.”

Amended provisions added to the bill include a pilot project which will run in Newport Beach for 26 months. The initiative will help gauge the city’s bonfire use. Wood-burning in fire rings was outlawed in Newport Beach in March. The amended bill would call for the city to afford the public with free or discounted charcoal.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD), which opposes the bill, instituted Rule 444 in March, requiring all fire rings be at least 700 feet from residences and 100 feet apart. Cities would need to obtain coastal development permits prior to eliminating the use of beach fire rings.

Opponents of the bill claim the bonfires poise potentially harmful health risks in relation to air quality.

“The problem with this bill is it would undermine the authority of a really major public health agency to protect the health of residents and including visitors to the beach,” Bill McGavern of the Coalition for Clean Air told the Senate Environmental Quality Committee on June 4. “We don’t want to jeopardize the health of people visiting the beach. I understand that we all grew up with an idea that wood smoke was innocuous, but we’ve since learned otherwise that the particulates in wood smoke are very hazardous to our health.”

The California Coastal Commission said it supports the bill because it clarifies a potential misunderstanding about the process for compiling with the SCAQMD’s new regulations. They added that the city of Newport Beach must comply with the public access policies of the Coastal Act while moving forward in the process.

Friends of the Fire Rings, a grass-roots organization based in Newport, has strongly supported the plan to continue providing low-cost access and recreation opportunities at public state beaches.

“The fire rings have been an important part of California’s culture for decades,” said Doug Swardstrom, a founder of the organization, in a prepared statement. “Most people do not go to the beach to stare at smoldering grey charcoal embers.”

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