SCAQMD board member hears it from mostly pro-fire ring crowd

About 50 speakers voiced their opinions on the fire ring controversy Friday afternoon at Huntington Beach’s council chambers.

South Coast Air Quality Management District board member and Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido sat next to Huntington Beach Mayor Connie Boardman on the dais and heard more than two hours of public testimony, with the majority of speakers asking to keep the fire rings in Huntington Beach, as well as those in neighboring coastal cities.

“There’s something magical here,” said Pulido about the fire rings in Huntington Beach. “It’s something, in my book, like a sacred process that we’re talking about; something deep in peoples’ psyche. The benefit could be emotional, it could be virtually spiritual. It’s something very deep in the people.”

Earlier in the week, AQMD released its preliminary study that showed bonfires had some increase in pollution. According to district spokesman Sam Atwood, the agency released Friday a list of options to mitigate the effects of the wood-burning pits.

Some options included increasing the distance between fire pits, creating a buffer zone or no-burn days, according to AQMD’s updated report.

“If we can somehow not ban them, that to me would be where I like to take this whole process,” Pulido said. “I think you can be pro-fire rings and be pro-environment.”

Assemblyman Allan Mansoor (R-Costa Mesa), various representatives from the Huntington Beach community and a handful of residents in favor of the ban were some of the speakers during Friday’s event.

“There are references back from 2007 that talk about the dangers of particulate matter,” said Frank Peters, a 60-year-old Corona del Mar resident about AQMD’s report. “Once you learn that, it’s kind of hard to forget that; to say it doesn’t matter anymore.”

Shaun Hutchins, 25, of Huntington Beach, supported Peters’ concerns and said people shouldn’t be subjected to smoke from fire pits.

“The people of Huntington Beach shouldn’t be forced to breathe this air with carcinogens,” he said.

Hutchins ended his comments saying people live in Newport Beach because of the air quality, but Huntington Beach resident Doug Evans snapped at Hutchins’ remarks and said Newport residents are there because of the lifestyle.

Evans, 43, said if they can’t take away a person’s freedom to smoke cigarettes, then they shouldn’t take away someone’s rights to enjoy a fire ring.

“Smoking causes far worse issues, in my opinion,” he said. “I think that’s a far great issue than a fire pit that’s used a few times a year, especially in the summer months.”

Pulido said officials will continue to monitor the air quality results as they come in during the summer months.

The AQMD board member said he would be willing to have another public hearing, this time in Newport Beach.

“I’m talking with [the Newport Beach] mayor the same way I’m working here with Mayor Boardman,” Pulido said. “Possibly, we could go to Newport and hear from folks in Newport.”

Many speakers against the ban told Pulido that individual cities should make their own decisions about the issue, but the Santa Ana mayor said making those kind of rules are difficult.

“Part of the problem when you make a rule is it’s hard to make individual rules,” Pulido said. “So I want more input. If folks in Newport would allow us to go down there, then let’s have a public hearing in Newport and let’s hear what those folks think.”