Coastal commissioner resigns after Vietnam ‘carpet bombing’ remark

People gather around a bonfire at Corona del Mar State Beach. The issue of beach bonfires is being discussed by the state Coastal Commission and the South Coast Air Quality Management District.
(Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times)

A state coastal commissioner who vocally supported banning beach bonfires along a stretch of Orange County coastline has resigned under growing pressure from two state legislators.

William Burke was serving as both a member of the state Coastal Commission and the South Coast Air Quality Management District, agencies that are at odds about whether the Southern California tradition of beach bonfires should be extinguished from San Clemente to Malibu.

Coastal Commission staffers have recommended that Newport Beach’s proposal to rip out 60 fire pits in Balboa and Corona del Mar be denied, while the air quality board is considering a regional ban on wood-burning fire pits for health reasons.


After Burke said smoke from the popular fire pits looks like “carpet bombing” in Vietnam, Assemblyman Allan Mansoor (R-Costa Mesa) and Sen. Mimi Walters (R-Irvine) tried to oust him from the AQMD.

They sent a letter to state Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris on April 15, questioning whether Burke could simultaneously serve on the AQMD and Coastal Commission, suggesting he had a conflict of duties.

“The clashing interests between the South Coast Air Quality Management District and the California Coastal Commission make it impossible for one member to be an effective and loyal representative on both bodies,” the legislators wrote.

The organizations’ respective missions — to ensure beach access to the public and to guard air quality — are directly at odds when it comes to beach bonfires, Mansoor and Walters wrote.

The two argued that Burke should resign from the AQMD because, they said, California’s Government Code 1099 dictates that he keep the most recent appointment, which was to the Coastal Commission.

Instead, Burke resigned his Coastal Commission post in a letter to Assembly Speaker John A. Perez dated April 12.

“Unfortunately, I can no longer serve and therefore tender my resignation effective immediately,” Burke wrote in the one-paragraph letter.

Mansoor and Walters sent their letter to the attorney general after dozens of constituents complained to the assemblyman about Burke’s Vietnam comparison, said Saulo Londono, Mansoor’s Capitol director.

“It’s pretty offensive, and they were pretty much livid at the comments,” Londono said.

Burke, the politically influential founder of the Los Angeles Marathon, was appointed to the AQMD by the state Assembly speaker in 1993; he has served on the Coastal Commission since 2002.

He did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.


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