The Orange County Board of Supervisors today spent about ten minutes discussing beach bonfires — including passionate comments about first kisses and freedom — before voting to oppose a proposal by the South Coast Air Quality Management District to ban beach fire rings throughout Los Angeles and Orange counties.
“The County supports a municipality’s right to decide the future of its fire rings as this is a local control issue,” a staff report said. “Local jurisdictions are best able to decide what is in the best interests of the community and its residents. This right is removed by implementing a one-size-fits-all approach in banning beach fire rings.”
The position against a “universal ban on beach fire rings basin-wide” also will be relayed and recommended to the California Coastal Commission, the report said.
Supervisor Todd Spitzer, who represents parts of Anaheim and Irvine as well as Orange, Tustin, Villa Park and Yorba Linda, voted to support the motion but said he personally felt that the rings should be preserved, period, without letting individual cities make their own rules about them.
“I’m generally a local control kind of person,” he said. “I mean leave it up to the locals. But in this case this would be like saying, ok locals, you don’t have to fly the flag if you don’t want to. Outlawing fire rings is like mother and apple pie. First song at the beach. First youth outing. First kiss. I mean there are some things that are sacred about those fire rings. I think we’re taking all the fun out of life.”
Orange County beaches have more than 700 fire rings, a staff report said, and Orange County parks has two beaches with 11 rings on Aliso Beach and Capistrano Beach. At those beaches, homes are located 40 to 50 yards from the rings, but no residents near either beach have complained in the past 10 years, the report said.
“Moreover, eliminating the fire rings at the two beaches might result in a reduction in the parking fees collected by the County should evening beach visitations drop as a result,” the report said.
Spitzer said that the fire rings came before the homes, and that residents should know before they move to such homes about “certain things that happen at those locations,” adding that letting locals decide who does or doesn’t have beach fire rings “allows certain people in certain parts of the state to strip residents and visitors of the freedom to have this on a beach.”
“I just think it’s part of our American fabric and our California fabric, it’s part of our California lifestyle,” he said.
Newport Beach has 60 fire rings, and the city has an application to remove the rings for health reasons pending with the California Coastal Commission. That agency in March decided to delay a vote and wait to hear whether the South Coast Air Quality Management District decided to ban all beach fires. That SCAQMD vote, which would ban all beach fires by January 2015, is expected to take place on June 7.
But what began as a local Newport Beach issue has become political, with city officials in Huntington Beach opposing the beach bonfire ban, partly because it brings in more than $1 million in revenue a year. Newport Beach Mayor Keith Curry reached out to the mayor of Huntington Beach, suggesting that the cities work together so each could decide about beach fire rings locally, and the Orange County Visitors Association board voted earlier this month to support a “to each their own” fire ring policy; read our story here.
Politics continued when, on April 15, two Orange County legislators wrote a letter to the state attorney general, suggesting that Coastal Commissioner and SCAQMD Chairman William Burke resign because of a potential conflict; read our story here. Burke, who declined to be interviewed, did tell another newspaper that there was no conflict. However, on April 17, his resignation letter — dated April 12 — was released, announcing that he was quitting the Coastal Commission.
Supervisor Chairman Shawn Nelson, who also serves on the SCAQMD, said at today’s meeting that he would be abstaining on the specific fire rings vote.
“I would rather not take a position at this point just because I think everybody deserves to have the belief there’s still an open mind when they come to the public meeting before the AQMD,” he said.
He did, however, say that there are several local companies that could provide alternatives that would allow beach visitors to enjoy fires, possibly using gas logs or propane tanks, that would preserve the beach amenity and protect air quality, and that the Southern California Gas Company could help create a pilot program.
“What I hope will come out of this is that Newport Beach will be provided some alternatives,” he said. “If they are sincere that their desire is not to get certain undesirables off the beach but rather to improve air quality, that they will embrace the opportunity.”
Nelson said alternative options would be discussed at a meeting in early June.
“I think the parties are here in Orange County that can offer some creative solutions to this,” he said. “I hope rather than fire pit or no fire pit, what you find is that there are some alternatives that include fire pits and accommodate clean air.”
The supervisors routinely vote to oppose or support proposed legislation in the state and in Washington, D.C. that are of interest to the county, a staff report said.