Keep Fire Rings in Newport Beach, Coastal Commission Staff Report Says

posted: February 22nd, 2013 08:23 pm | 5Comments

Beach fire rings are “a unique recreational facility for which there is no substitution” and Newport Beach should not remove them from Big Corona State Beach and the Balboa Pier area, a Coastal Commission staff report states.

The Commission will consider the city’s application to remove 60 fire rings at a March 6 meeting in San Diego. But a staff report lists numerous reasons to keep the rings, from a sense of history to the importance of giving the public access to lower-cost recreational facilities at the beach.

“Removal of the fire rings would deprive the public of the opportunity to access and use lower cost visitor and recreational facilities that have been a fixture of Newport Beach for more than half a century,” the staff report states. “In addition, the city is asking for the Commission to approve removal of the fire rings based on concerns about health effects of wood smoke with no air quality data provided.”

The issue of removing the city’s beach fire rings came up in 2009 but was tabled as budget issues became an increasing concern in the city. In September 2011, Councilwoman Nancy Gardner asked that the issue be studied after a lawsuit was filed against Huntington Beach when a child was injured at a fire ring there. In February 2012, the City’s Parks, Beaches & Recreation Commission voted 4-3 to recommend that the Council remove the rings, and the Council voted unanimously last March to remove them.

Several residents testified about the dangers of wood smoke, and many of them sent letters to the Coastal Commission supporting the removal of the rings.

But the commission staff report expressed concerns that the city conducted no studies that showed that pollution in the air near the beaches was caused by smoke from the fire rings, despite two Parks, Beaches & Recreation commissioners asking for such a study last year.

“Commission staff does not dispute that some individuals can have adverse health effects from wood smoke,” the report states. “However, the City has not demonstrated that the wood smoke from the City’s beach fire rings are directly responsible for a public health problem…There are a variety of other sources of smoke and odors in these areas including private fireplaces, private outdoor fire rings, barbeques, exhaust from both marine and terrestrial diesel vehicles and restaurant equipment vents that would contribute to air quality conditions.”

In November through February, the reports states, fire rings are used the least — and those are the months that typically see air quality issues — meaning fire rings are not the most likely culprit.

The city could take other measures short of removing the fire rings that would address air quality concerns, the report states, including enforcing existing rules about what can be burned in the rings, dispersing the concentration of rings and asking the public not to use them on No Burn days, the report states.

“There are alternatives that could be implemented, short of removal of the fire pits that could mitigate adverse effects of the fire pits,” the report states. “The city could post more explicit signs that warn of the danger of burning plastic, painted wood, pallets, and hazardous materials. The city could enforce its regulations with citations for violators. The existing sign simply says: ‘Do not burn litter in fire rings.’”

The report also says that removing the rings in Newport Beach could create more demand and crowding at locations where 673 other rings would remain, and that removal also could “set a precedent that could lead to removal of beach fire rings from other parts of the coast.”

“Fire rings are one of the popular activities enjoyed by the public at both Corona del Mar State Beach and the city beach near the Balboa Pier,” the report states. “The fire rings provide the opportunity for the quintessential Southern California beach experience – grilling a meal, toasting marshmallows, telling stories, strumming on a guitar, singing songs, celebrating special occasions like family reunions, birthdays, anniversaries, and baptisms.”

The report, which includes letters for and against removing the rings, also makes note of an online petition signed by 5,578 people in support of the rings, some from out of the country and throughout the state.

The Coastal Commission hearing will take place at the Bahia Resort Hotel at 998 West Mission Bay Drive in San Diego. The public may attend and make comments. The meeting also will be streamed live on the Commission’s website.

Read our earlier stories here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

5 Responses to “Keep Fire Rings in Newport Beach, Coastal Commission Staff Report Says”


David Huntsman

February 24th, 2013

So the rings are "a unique recreational facility for which there is no substitution..." Can't you barbecue in any of the City's or the State's parks? Do people really need scores of fire rings big enough to smelt iron ore?


February 25th, 2013

We need the fire rings! My family uses them for our Youth Group, Boy Scouts and family nights at the beach. We are locals too! All of the people complaining knew the rings were there when they bought the house, if they want a sterile beach then a gated community might be a better choice. The reality is that the rings are only active during the summer months. If people are concerned about air quaility, then there are a number of environmental organziations that could use some money and influence to improve our air quality.

Barbara Peters

February 25th, 2013

I urge everyone to read the letters from the experts, not mentioned in this article, but included in the staff report. A doctor from the California Department of Public Health, who developed the public health and medical foundations for California's air quality standards said, "It is unquestionable that exposure to wood smoke can cause a variety of effects, ranging from irritation of the eyes and respiratory tract, to serious lung infections, exacerbation of asthma and other chronic lung disease." Isn't an unquestionable health risk worthy of considering another form of lower cost public recreation? And another letter, "The American Lung Association in California is writing to express concern about the use of fire rings on public beaches, due to harmful exposures from smoke caused by burning wood. With the scientific evidence linking wood smoke pollution to lung disease, heart disease and premature death, no one should be involuntarily exposed."


February 26th, 2013

@David, the fire rings are such a unique recreational facility, and for the city of newport, even grilling in public is unique. The City of Newport Beach has a law on the books stating that in public areas, including the beaches and the parks, you are not allowed to have a fire in anything other than a city provided container e.g. the pits or the city provided grills. So if the pits were to be removed, it only leaves a handful of city provided grills total between the peninsula and big corona for you to cook your food. Where the pits are taken up quickly in the summer, the city provided grills are taken up faster. So using the excuse that people can just grill their food at the beach is not a valid replacement for removing the pits.

Ross Nash

July 2nd, 2013

After all the discussions with Senate Representatives, Assemblyman, Mayor's, City Councils, the AQMD's approach to this was shady. They wanted a quiet transition to please a friend of someone who is on the BOD of the AQMD. This is America and we are entitled to vote on any decisions that effect our lives. Put the whole thing to a vote before a decision is made. It has already been admitted by the AQMD that there are other abusers of air quality much worse than fire pits. These are areas enjoyed by the masses and affordably so. Why does the AQMD find other abusers they already admit exist to enforce these laws upon.$$$$ Disneyland has a nightly firework display causing much more pollution of the area along with Knott's, Angel Stadium. It seems to be that certain residents are suffering from smoke caused by fire pits near their homes. Well, they can afford it, MOVE. Why make everyone else suffer. Letting each city vote seems to be the fairest approach to this problem...

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