The fire rings issue was heating up again at the city council meeting on Tuesday.
Council members unanimously voted 6-0 to reduce the number of beach fire pits in the city from 60 down to 27, keep them separated by a minimum of 50 feet, and replace a portion of them with an alternative fuel for a demonstration project for the South Coast Air Quality Management District. The city also plans on experimenting with larger rings, meant for groups of people to gather around. Councilwoman Leslie Daigle was absent.
“There is a danger,” said Mayor Pro Tem Rush Hill and there is more information known about these danger now than ever before.
“We also know that we love our beaches and we know that it’s a lot of fun to stand around a bonfire in the evening and roast marshmallows and just stay warm and lie to one another,” he said.
“But what can we do to preserve those two items? Why do they have to be conflicting? Why do we have to argue about it? I don’t understand why common sense never prevails,” Hill continued.
Hotels and restaurants are changing over to alternative fuel fire pits, Hill explained, so “Why can’t we try them?”
A few council members called the move a compromise.
“This represents a very earnest attempt at a compromise where we can maintain the traditions that have made this beach wonderful to all the California public, but also cleans them up,” said councilman Tony Petros
Nearly 20 people remarked during public comment, speaking on both sides of the issue with the majority urging for the removal of the rings.
Among those at the podium was Dr. Edward O’Neil, a retired professor of environmental health at University of California, Los Angeles, School of Public Health and a property owner since 1972 in front of the pier park.
“The health affects are unacceptable,” he said. “The important part is the health of the people.”
On the flip side was Doug Swardstrom, part of the Friends of the Fire Rings group.
With the help of Lewis Consulting Group, LLC., they conducted a survey of Newport Beach and Orange County residents last July, he explained.
About 89 percent said that based off of what they know, the fire rings should not be removed and, in Newport Beach alone, 82 percent disagreed with the council’s move to start the removal process after homeowners complained, according to Swardstrom.
A lawyer for the group recently filed suit against AQMD and requested judicial review of the district’s rule 444 regarding beach fire rings, claiming political motivations and inadequate data.
There are “real and significant health impacts” from wood smoke, said Mayor Keith Curry, who asked Swardstrom about his reaction to some of the complaints speakers were mentioning.
“I think some of the wood smoke studies are inconclusive and I think we need to wait for the studies to be finished,” he answered. “I don’t see what the rush is.”
Petros somewhat agreed, saying he believes in the fire rings and their use and that the AQMD studies may be inconclusive.
Fire rings are a traditional and important part of the southern California beach experience, Curry added.
“We (should) approach this issue as neighbors concerned about how we can protect the heath of each other,” Curry said, “and at the same time accommodate our residents and visitors who wish to continue to use the beach to enjoy the California lifestyle.”