Fire ring debate continues with public meetings

Southern California residents will have yet another chance to air their thoughts about beach fire rings, at public meetings later this month in Newport Beach and El Segundo.

The meetings are set for 5:30 p.m. June 13 at the Hyatt Regency hotel, 1107 Jamboree Road in Newport, and 5:30 p.m. June 14 at the Embassy Suites hotel, 1440 East Imperial Ave. in El Segundo, according to a South Coast Air Quality Management District notice.

District officials will host the meetings, not the cities in which they're taking place.

Newport residents long debated whether health concerns stemming from bonfires at Corona del Mar State Beach and near the Balboa Pier should outweigh the rings' place as a beach tradition. Ultimately, residents' health concerns won out in Newport. However, the city's request for California Coastal Commission approval to remove the 60 fire rings from its beaches sparked a heated regional debate when the possible ban was taken up by the AQMD.

Huntington Beach and many of its residents have led the charge to save the fire rings, calling them an irreplaceable part of Southern California's history. That battle cry has been adopted by officials in several other cities, along with a number of state legislators.

Newport Beach has since taken the position that the district should allow a city-by-city approach, given the varying proximity of homes to the fires in different areas. In April, the Orange County Board of Supervisors voted to support that approach.

Last month Newport Beach City Manager Dave Kiff said in an email that the city wasn't interested in having talks with the AQMD about the city's application.

"We didn't ask the South Coast AQMD to weigh in on our [Coastal Development Plan] application," he wrote in late May. "We didn't ask the district to ban fire rings basinwide."

While numerous other entities within Orange County have also thrown in their two cents, there's been much less feedback from Los Angeles County jurisdictions.

The vast majority of beach fire rings burn on Orange County beaches — more than 700, versus Los Angeles County's 99 total fire pits. However, 90 of those are at Dockweiler State Beach, in Playa del Rey, which neighbors El Segundo.

The fate of the rings rests in the hands of AQMD board members, who are slated to vote on the proposed ban at the group's meeting July 5, at the earliest. District officials have said that vote could be pushed to a later date.

Last month, district staff members released preliminary results of a study that showed a higher frequency of particulate matter closer to the fire rings, possibly contributing to respiratory health problems.

District officials said the study was continuing, and postponing the vote would allow results from the busy summer months to be factored into the board's decision.

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