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O.C. supervisors oppose proposed ban on fire rings

Board members vote in support of allowing individual cities to develop their own beach bonfire policies.

April 23, 2013|By Jill Cowan

The Orange County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday formally opposed a call by air-quality regulators to snuff out beach bonfires in much of Southern California.

Supervisors urged the South Coast Air Quality Managment District to drop a proposed ban on beach-side fire pits in Orange and Los Angeles counties and instead consider a more localized approach that considers factors in each community, such as the fires' proximity to residents.

Citing health and environmental problems associated with burning wood, the Newport Beach City Council wants the state to let it remove fire rings in Corona del Mar and other areas. Adjacent Huntington Beach, however, wants to maintain the tradition on its shoreline. The AQMD board is expected to rule on the ban June 7.

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Supervisor John Moorlach, who represents Newport Beach on the board, doesn't want "a one-size-fits-all solution," which would ignore "geographical differences."

"I believe and [Supervisor Patricia Bates] believes it's a local issue," Moorlach said. "I think it's great this board is taking a policy that each city take a position that fits its community, and encouraging the AQMD not to tread further."

The vote was unanimous, with Board Chairman Shawn Nelson abstaining, because he represents Orange County on the AQMD board.

Orange County operates 11 fire rings at two beaches: Aliso Beach in Laguna Beach, which has seven fire rings, and Capistrano Beach, which has four.

The Board of Supervisors has no formal authority over city or state beaches, including those in Newport and Huntington, but the supervisors' vote saw the board wading into a ballooning regional discussion that could eventually have implications statewide.

A staff report for this week's meeting recommended that the board oppose the ban, and instead, support "an option that provides greater flexibility" for cities to determine whether or not wood smoke generated by the fires poses enough of a health risk to justify removing the rings on their own stretches of coast.

Supervisor Todd Spitzer said at first that supporting what could end up a patchwork set of open beach burning rules didn't go far enough in protecting what he called a "sacred" part of "our American fabric, our California fabric" — one that he said conjured memories of first kisses and apple pie.

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