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Newport Beach extinguishes plan to ban fire rings

Newport Beach has withdrawn its request to remove fire rings from the city’s beaches.

In a letter to the California Coastal Commission, which would have had to approve the city’s application to remove the rings, City Manager Dave Kiff wrote that "[w]hile the most sensible thing to do is simply delay the commission's consideration of our application, we understand this is not possible."

The commission was scheduled to vote on Newport Beach’s application a day before the South Coast Air Quality Management District considers a proposal to give any city or county the authority to get rid of wood-burning fire rings.

The city withdrew its application because officials were concerned that conflicting decisions would have left them tiptoeing through hazy legal territory.

In a report released last week, California Coastal Commission staff recommended keeping Newport Beach's fire rings, echoing reasoning from a staff report released earlier this year.

Removing the 60 rings from Corona del Mar State Beach and Balboa Beach would eliminate a low-cost form of public recreation, according to the commission staff report.

The AQMD's initial proposal, a broader ban than the one going before the board July 12, sparked an outcry from many Southern California residents who cherish bonfires as a decades-old tradition steeped in nostalgia.

A vote on that ban was pushed back as district staff members studied air quality near the bonfires and crafted a compromise proposal. The commission report says staff members anticipated an AQMD decision on a possible ban in June.

Last month, though, the district released its revamped proposal, which would create buffer zones meant to diffuse the effects of wood smoke on people living close to the bonfires, as well as give cities and counties more control. The proposal also includes provisions for no-burn days.

Newport Beach officials lauded the document as a viable compromise and announced that they were working with the AQMD on an alternative-fuel fire ring pilot program, in which the city would test out 10 non-wood-burning fire rings, probably fueled by propane.

Commission Deputy Director Sherilyn Sarb said Monday that Newport Beach withdrawing its application before the hearing next week, then submitting an alternative plan was one route open to the city.

"We do see the options are available," Sarb said, adding that propane fire rings are "one of them," along with limiting the fire rings' use on no-burn days, greater enforcement of existing rules regarding what can be burned in the pits, and a reduction in the density of Newport's fire rings.

"We would certainly look at those options that would allow some [fire rings] to remain," she said.

Kiff wrote that, depending on the AQMD's decision next week, the city may submit a revised application asking that it be allowed to remove its 60 wood-burning fire rings and replace them with 10 alternatively-fueled ones installed through the pilot program.

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jill.cowan@latimes.com

 

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