Legislators introduce bill to protect bonfires

Groups of friends huddle around a fire pit at Big Corona State Beach in Corona Del Mar. The pits have been a gathering point for family, friends and visitors to the beach for years.
(Don Leach / Daily Pilot)

Two members of the state Assembly have introduced a bill that would protect California’s beach fire rings by overruling a recent decision that places restrictions on them.

The bill by Assemblyman Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach) and Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva (D-Fullerton) said the bipartisan legislation would support access to California’s beaches and the “continued enjoyment” of a community tradition.

It comes after the members of the South Coast Air Quality Management District, or AQMD, voted in July to place new restrictions on the fires, among them a 700-foot buffer zone between bonfires and homes and the possibility of “no-burn days.” The decision affects Orange and Los Angeles counties and is scheduled to go into effect March 1, 2014.

Assembly Bill 1102 would prohibit AQMD from “enacting a rule that prohibits a person from engaging in a beach burning for a recreational, ceremonial or open burning conducted in a public coastal area marked by an accumulation of sand.”

Assemblyman Allan Mansoor (R-Costa Mesa) and state Sen. Mimi Walters (R-Irvine) are among the bill’s sponsors.

“It would be hard to imagine the Orange County coast without fire rings on the beach,” Quirk-Silva said in a statement. “While I sympathize with the need to reduce pollution in Orange County, there are several more effective solutions available to us without taking away not only fun and tradition, but also needed revenue for our coastal parks.”

Allen said in a prepared statement that the bonfires are an activity “enjoyed by people from all across California, including those who cannot afford multimillion dollar beachfront homes.”

AQMD spokesman Sam Atwood wrote in an email that the state Legislature has the authority to amend the state’s health and safety code, which governs the AQMD.

The agency’s executive officer, Barry Wallerstein, was not available for comment as of late Friday afternoon.

Newport Beach has about 60 rings near the Balboa Pier and on Corona del Mar State Beach.

City Manager Dave Kiff wrote in an email that he isn’t sure how the proposed bill can nullify AQMD’s health-impacts study, which suggested that the fire rings that generate wood smoke should be limited within 700 feet of homes because of particulate matter and other concerns.

“It’s very hard to un-ring that study’s bell,” Kiff said.

Maybe state lawmakers will consider amending the bill, Kiff said, to have the state “indemnify, defend, and hold harmless” all beach cities with fire rings from lawsuits that relate to falling into the pits or ill-health effects because of living or working near the pits’ wood smoke.