Commentary: More reasons to eliminate wood-burning fire rings

Beach fire rings legislation winding its way through Sacramento provoked this from one senator, "I hate this bill."

Assembly Bill 1102, proposed by Assemblyman Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach), would preserve wood-burning beach fire pits and undermine the South Coast Air Quality Management District's regulation of them as outlined in the agency's Rule 444.

As public health is pitted against public access, passionate arguments abound. Last week we heard a new one: Wood burning on public beaches is a low-cost, visitor-serving recreational opportunity. At least that's what the California Coastal Commission called it.

The Coastal Commission continues to beat the drum for wood burning on the beach. At last week's Senate hearing, the commission's legislative liaison even suggested that Newport Beach could be required to spread wood-burning fire rings out along the beach, potentially exposing even more people to the harmful contaminants in the smoke.

This prompts the question: Why should any wood burning be allowed on the beach, especially when cleaner alternatives work?

Shouldn't it be required that a state-sanctioned recreational opportunity not harm public health, especially that of kids?

The Coastal Commission's all about access, right?

"In actuality, if local governments decide to comply with Rule 444 through the use of charcoal or liquid or gaseous fuels, the rule may increase access to the beaches," according to the report. "Those susceptible to the adverse health impacts of wood smoke, who were unable to go to the beach for health reasons previously, would now be able to enjoy the beach access and fire rings as well."

Bottom line: What is wrong with no net loss of fire rings, cleaner-burning charcoal and increased parking revenues? Why is the Coastal Commission behaving as if it's just fine with wood burning?

AB 1102 set out to save the wood-burning bonfire experience, and along the way it's become clear that alternative fuels really are a better idea: a win-win solution.

The Coastal Commission may find that its stance gets more scrutiny in the Legislature, where the overriding goal should be to protect the public from harmful particulate matter.

BARBARA PETERS lives in Corona del Mar.

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