Volleyball, Kids’ Play Area May Replace Fire Rings

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Besides improving air quality near the beach, removing fire rings could create room for volleyball courts and a play structure on Big Corona State Beach, according to a letter that Newport Beach staff sent to the California Coastal Commission.

The letter, which is dated Oct. 19 but which was posted publicly on the city’s website this week, responded to a Coastal Commission analyst’s questions and could complete the city’s application to remove the beach fire rings.

One of the fire rings at Big Corona.

Newport Beach City Council members voted unanimously in March to remove 60 beach fire rings, including 27 rings at Big Corona State Beach and the rest near the Balboa Pier. The city needs Coastal Commission approval to remove the rings, but the commission’s staff twice has sent the city’s application back, asking for more information and deeming it “incomplete.”

A major concern is the city’s contention that the fire rings create wood smoke that is harmful – a point made by members of the community to the city’s Parks, Beaches & Recreation Commission in February as well as to the City Council.

Coastal Commission staff analyst Jeffrey Rabin asked if air quality tests had been conducted, and if city officials “know definitively the source of smoke in adjacent neighborhoods?”

In the most recent city response, Deputy Community Development Director Brenda Wisneski said that information was impossible to document.

“The health impacts of wood smoke, in general, have been well documented,” she wrote, adding that an air-quality expert that the city consulted “noted that it would not be possible to definitively determine the source of the emissions in this situations because particulates may be generated by a variety of sources and would vary by weather conditions.”

The 35-page document included copies of email correspondence from two UC Irvine professors and a letter from a health effects officer with the South Coast Air Quality Management District, all concurring that wood smoke is a health hazard.

The Coastal Commission analyst also requested information on how many people use the fire rings. The city’s letter indicated that in the peak months of June, July and August, the rings were 100 percent occupied by 600 people a day. But in slower months like March and October, the number decreased to 14 percent occupied with 30 people a day.

The city’s response included requested historical information about the rings, which can be tracked back to the days after World War II, as well as information about whether state parks officials have agreed to allow the city to remove the rings and replace them with other recreational features. The city and state have an operating agreement in place through August 2029.

According to a letter included in the city’s latest response, state officials believe “the City did receive some form of permission from the State to remove the rings from the property.”

“However, California State Parks believes the current fire rings to be a public benefit, which invites a more diverse visitor population to this unique recreational area,” District Superintendent Brian Ketterer wrote. “It is in the interest of these visitors that the State requests that if the fire rings are to be removed, the City enter into discussions with our offices to discuss other opportunities for passive recreation within the area which would benefit all visitors.”

Removing the rings would create 24,000 square feet of beach space by the Balboa Pier and 20,000 extra square feet at Big Corona, the city’s letter states. The Big Corona space could be better used by adding volleyball courts and a children’s play structure “space net” that would be used all day, rather than at only at night, when the fire rings are typically used.

Coastal Commission staff analyst Rabin did not immediately reply to an email and voice mail seeking comment for this story. The city’s beach fire ring webpage indicates that if the newest response completes the application, the Coastal Commission could hear the item at its February meeting.

Newport Beach began discussing whether to remove the city’s fire rings in 2009 but later tabled the conversation because of community controversy as well as because of concerns over growing budget constraints. In September 2011, Mayor Nancy Gardner asked that the issue be reexamined after a lawsuit filed against the city of Huntington Beach when a child was burned.

– By Amy Senk

Reprinted with permission from CoronaDelMarToday.com.



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