Newport Beach may have to take a third stab at its application to remove 60 beach fire rings, a California Coastal Commission staff member said in a recent interview.
“Their application remains incomplete,” Coastal Commission Coastal Programs Analyst Jeffrey Rabin said in a telephone interview. “Until we have all the information we feel is necessary to evalute the impact, we can’t take it to the commission. We’re not there yet.”
The Newport Beach City Council voted in March to remove the beach fire rings, and the city sent its original application to the Coastal Commission in May. The Coastal Commission in June asked for more information; read our story here.
Rabin said he received the city’s resubmission about two weeks ago, but he’s been busy with other projects so he’s given the new information only a cursory look. But even that quick look, he said, showed information lacking on air quality studies.
A major initial concern, he said, was that the city’s resubmission letter stated that conducting an air quality study was “not feasible.”
“We’re going to have to pursue that,” he said.
He also questioned the city’s reliance on the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s Rule 445, which was adopted in 2008 and banned wood-burning fireplaces in new developments. That rule specifically exempts beach bonfires.
Discussions of Newport Beach beach bonfires dates back to the 1940s, according to a review of archived Council meeting minutes.
In 1942, the United States was at war, and the Newport Beach City Council passed ordinances that banned all open fires “between the hours of one hour before sunset and one hour after sunrise on any given day,” according to Ordinance 513, which passed in April 1942. Violators would be fined up to $300 and could face three months’ jail time, the ordinance said.
The war ended in 1945, and apparently beach fires had reappeared. By August 1946, a city councilman “brought the matter of controlling bon fires on the Corona del Mar beach and suggested that locations for such be restricted to within 30 feet of the East Jetty wall and nearer inshore.”
By 1949, the council had adopted an ordinance outlining six campfire areas, and some residents signed a petition asking for a seventh location to be added, archived records indicate.
None of the campfire areas was in Corona del Mar until 1950, when an ordinance created an eighth area between the East Jetty and Iris Avenue, city records show.
The addition of the Corona del Mar campfire area was described as urgent.
“The uncontrolled building of camp fires on the beach constitutes a threat to the public health safety and property of the citizens of Newport Beach,” the ordinance states.
Yet another area was added in 1954. But by 1957, council members began restricting beach fires to city-provided “containers,” voting to allocate $290 from a “Surplus-Corona del Mar State Park Fund to Corona del Mar State Park Appropriations” to purchase official rings.
Complaints about the rings also had begun, archived documents show, along with members of the public seeking no limitations on beach fire rings.
In 1951, a petition with 14 signatures was presented to council, requesting fire pits be removed from an area of West Newport Beach — it is not clear if these pits were installed by the city. In 1958, another woman told the council members at the meeting she wanted no fire ring limitations. In 1963, the City Manager received letters asking for fire ring removal between 15th and 16th streets.
By 2007, council members were discussing problems with the fire rings at Corona del Mar, specifically fires that burned long after the 10 p.m. beach curfew. Two years later, City Councilwoman Nancy Gardner asked staff to bring back a report to abolish all rings in the city.
The potential removal of beach fire rings has brought national attention to Newport Beach, Rabin said.
“This is a very important issue,” he said. “Obviously, there are two different points of view, and there’s a lot of public interest. We’ve received letters from people on the East Coast, the Midwest and in Canada. That’s the level of interest…it extends well beyond the boundaries of Orange County.”
To see the City’s application and other information about its efforts to remove fire rings, click here.
That webpage, which was updated on Aug. 23, indicates that the issue could be resolved in six to 12 months. Rabin said the Coastal Commission would have 180 days to review the application after it was deemed complete.
Corona del Mar Today reader Jim Mosher helped research city archives for his story.