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Newport, Huntington clash over fire rings

Surf City residents say they would lose money; N.B. cites health risks of smoke.

March 28, 2013|By Jill Cowan
  • A group of friends hanging out by a fire ring in Newport Beach.
A group of friends hanging out by a fire ring in Newport… (DON LEACH )

DIAMOND BAR — An ongoing fight over beach bonfires pitted the interests of two neighboring cities against each other Thursday morning, as Huntington Beach residents asked South Coast Air Quality Management District staff members to put the kibosh on a proposed rule change that would ban open burning on all beaches in the district's jurisdiction — or at least explore other alternatives.

The Newport Beach City Council supports removing the fire rings in Corona del Mar and near the Balboa Pier.

"There must be other ways to manage [beach burning], without outright banning it," said Huntington Beach preservationist Mary Urashima.

District officials gathered public input Thursday in advance of a possible May 3 vote on the ban. The change, which officials proposed after the California Coastal Commission cited SCAQMD rules in its consideration of the city of Newport Beach's application to remove its fire rings, would add beach burning to a list of prohibited open burning activities in the district's Rule 444.

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The ban was proposed in light of the district's efforts to cut down on certain types of hazardous particulate matter in the air in compliance with state and federal rules.

Numerous Huntington Beach residents and city officials told staff that eliminating fire rings from Orange County beaches would take a big bite out of coastal tourism dollars, and that the proposed rule change banning open burning on all beaches in the district's jurisdiction was like taking a sledgehammer to an issue requiring a fine-tooth comb.

"People don't go to the beach in the evening to sun tan," said Dianne Thompson, Huntington Beach Chamber of Commerce chairwoman, citing an estimated $1-million loss just in beach parking revenue after 3 p.m. "This would impact us more than any community."

Upward of half of the more than 800 fire rings that would be affected fall within Huntington Beach's limits. Bolsa Chica State Beach, Huntington City Beach and Huntington State Beach account for about 500 fire rings.

Meanwhile, all of the Los Angeles County beach fire rings add up to just 90. Newport has 60. Aliso Beach County Park, between downtown Laguna Beach and South Laguna, has seven.

The potential for lost revenue played a major role in Huntington Beach's opposition to the ban, said Laurie Frymire, a city spokeswoman. She questioned the air district's outreach.

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