Huntington Beach Officials Say Fire Ring Ban Could Cost That City $1 Million

posted: March 26th, 2013 05:35 am | 2Comments

A plan to ban all beach bonfires throughout Orange and Los Angeles counties, including 27 at Big Corona State Beach, may be fine with the Newport Beach City Council, which voted unanimously a year ago to remove the rings.

But in neighboring Huntington Beach, civic leaders are protesting, citing financial fallout rather than the health concerns that Newport Beach leaders have.

In a letter to the South Coast Air Quality Management District, a group that is discussing a change to Rule 444 that would ban all beach bonfires, the mayor of Huntington Beach expressed “strong opposition” to the plan.

“The fire rings on our beaches are a major part of this city’s character and tradition,” wrote Mayor Connie Boardman in the March 22 letter. “Visitors come to our beaches in the early morning hours to reserve fire rings for the evening. The concept of a warm open fire evokes a sense of family and special memories for many generations.”

More than 11 million people visit Huntington Beach each year, the mayor’s letter states.

“While not all of those visitors participate in recreational fires on our beach areas, a large majority visit our beaches solely for that purpose,” she wrote. “We estimate that these visitors generate more than $1 million annually in revenue through parking fees, sales tax from local shopping, and Transient Occupancy Tax from overnight stays.”

Huntington Beach, the letter states, has more than half of all the beach fire rings in the SCAQMD area. According to an AQMD staff report, there are 840 rings in Los Angeles and Orange Counties. Bolsa Chica State Beach has 182; Huntington City Beach has 83; and Huntington State Beach has 200. As a result, a beach fire ban would hurt Huntington Beach more than any other city, the mayor’s letter states.

The Huntington Beach Marketing and Visitor’s Bureau created an online petition, which has more 2,100 signatures, asking the AQMD to allow Huntington Beach to keep fire rings.

The visitor’s bureau also urged residents with concerns to attend a meeting scheduled for 9 a.m. Thursday at the AQMD Headquarters at 21865 Copley Drive in Diamond Bar.

The AQMD’s Stationary Source Committee discussed adding a beach bonfire ban at a meeting held in Palm Desert on March ; read our story here. One member suggested that rather than implement a complete ban, cities should have the option to opt in or out of a beach fire ban.

Newport Beach’s concerns with fire rings centered on health and safety and not financial impact, and city staff did not conduct outreach to business groups or residential groups between a February vote by the city’s Parks, Beaches & Recreation Commission to remove the city’s 60 fire rings and a unanimous City Council vote five weeks later. At the time of the City Council vote, Corona del Mar Residents Association President Karen Tringali said she was surprised that the vote had occurred before that group’s planned outreach efforts on the subject; read our story here.

But Newport Beach may not suffer the same financial consequences as Huntington Beach if fire rings are banned, said Gary Sherwin, president and chief executive officer of Newport Beach & Company.

“According to our visitor studies, many of the Newport Beach visitors go to the beach, but also go to other areas of the city, even if it is the restaurants and shops near the beaches,” he said in an email. “In other words, the beach is very important but not the only thing they value in a visit. Surprisingly, we have had very little comment from our visitors regarding the fire rings. I’ve seen the Facebook protest page, but we haven’t seen any significant outpouring of emotion on the issue. I thought we might, but it hasn’t happened.”

He added that he understood Huntington Beach’s position.

“We know that many of their visitors go there specifically for the beach experience and don’t venture much farther than that,” he said. “In other words, the beach is the main thing in Huntington. And naturally they want to keep as much of that beach experience in tact.”

Corona del Mar Chamber of Commerce President Linda Leonhard said in an email that the topic could be discussed at a future Business Improvement District board meeting. Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce President Steve Rosansky, who was on the City Council when it voted to remove the bans, said he thinks the health of residents and visitors is a priority.

Newport Beach city officials said they agreed that the city would continue to attract visitors, with or without beach fires.

“There are many other amenities that draw folks to the beach that will continue to be present regardless of what happens with the rings,” said Laura Detweiler, director of Recreation and Senior Services, in an email. “Convenient parking, BBQs, cooler climates, slow rolling waves, grass areas, restaurants and play equipment will continue to draw large numbers of beach goers.”

The AQMD will vote on the beach fire ring ban at a May 3 meeting. The California Coastal Commission is waiting for that vote before holding a hearing on whether Newport Beach should receive a permit to remove its beach fire rings. The Coastal Commissioners held a hearing on the city’s application earlier this month but unanimously decided to delay their decision; read our story here.

Huntington Beach’s efforts were originally reported Friday in the Orange County Register.


2 Responses to “Huntington Beach Officials Say Fire Ring Ban Could Cost That City $1 Million”

Comments

Patti ODesky

March 26th, 2013

I vote that we keep the fire rings at Big Corona

Sandra

March 27th, 2013

So do I.


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