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Judge won't block removal of Newport Beach fire rings

Courts and the JudiciaryOrange County Superior Court

A legal effort to block the removal of concrete fire rings from the seashore in Newport Beach was rejected Friday by an Orange County Superior Court judge, clearing the way for the city to move forward with efforts to reduce the number of beachfront bonfire pits.

The group, Friends of the Fire Rings, was seeking an injunction to prevent the city from moving ahead with its plans.

The ruling comes as a battle over beach bonfires plays out between regulatory agencies and in the state Legislature. Though some believe the wood-burning fire rings present health concerns because of the clouds of smoke that are blown into oceanfront neighborhoods, others see them as a harmless and visitor-friendly Southern California tradition.

Friends of the Fire Rings had asked for the emergency action in late December, saying that if the city was allowed to remove the fire pits, it could do irreparable damage by eliminating a resource for beachgoers.

In November, the group filed suit against the South Coast Air Quality Management District in an attempt to negate parts of its regulations on beach burning that the agency approved in July.

“Nothing mandates replacing fire rings if the [AQMD’s regulations] are invalidated,” said Corona del Mar attorney Melinda Luthin, who represented Friends of the Fire Rings.

She said the regulations constituted an “abuse of government power.”

Still, Judge Robert J. Moss said he didn’t see the possible removal of fire rings as rising to the level of irreparable harm.

“I don’t really see there’s an emergency,” he said. Moss disclosed at the beginning of the hearing that he lives in Newport Beach and had done some work for the city when he was a practicing attorney, but didn’t feel that there was enough of a conflict to recuse himself from the case.

Despite the ruling, it’s unlikely that any of the fire pits will be removed any time soon.

Newport Beach City Atty. Aaron Harp said after the hearing that the city plans to seek permission for reducing the number or rings from the state Coastal Commission, which has opposed the plan previously.

That process could take years.

Corona del Mar resident Frank Peters, a vocal advocate of removing the fire rings, said that he and his neighbors “suffer horribly,” and that this year’s hot, dry winter has made their air even worse. He was pleased with the ruling.

 

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Jill.cowan@latimes.com

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