Corona del Mar Today: Fire ring debate still burning in Newport Beach

Some people might like beach fire rings, but the drawbacks might outweigh the benefits, and a three-member sub-committee should study the issue, according to the agenda for Tuesday's Parks, Beaches and Recreation Commission meeting.

In a memo included in the online agenda, Recreation and Senior Services Director Laura Detweiler conceded that "fire rings are liked by many beachgoers."

But, she said, the city and others have concerns about health impact to residents, "especially in CdM," the note said.

She specifically noted that volleyball players' and others' proximity to "near-constant smoke and particulate matter from the rings' use" as an issue. Other problems include injuries when hot ash is not doused or properly disposed of, the costs of cleaning and replacing rings and concerns about beach curfew violations "by persons using the fire rings who can be reluctant to leave the beach when directed to do so by park patrol or police."

The commission will decide whether to appoint a three-member subcommittee to "review issues related to beach fire rings and return to the full commission with recommended solutions," Detweiler's memo stated.

Questions about the safety of beach fire rings were widely debated, especially in Corona del Mar, about two years ago before city leaders decided the issue was taking too much staff time when budget constraints were heating up.

At a City Council meeting earlier this month, however, Mayor Pro Tem Nancy Gardner asked that the Parks Commission study the issue. She cited an accident in Huntington Beach and litigation in that city as reasons to reexamine the rings.

Big Corona State Beach has 27 rings, and the beach by Balboa Pier has 33 rings.

The Parks, Beaches and Recreation Commission meeting will take place at 6 p.m. Tuesday in Council Chambers at Newport Beach City Hall, 3300 Newport Blvd. The public is welcome and may make comments.

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Council delays plastic-bag ban study

The Newport Beach City Council this week delayed a decision about whether to ask the Environmental Quality Affairs Committee to study a citywide ban on single-use plastic bags.

Mayor Pro Tem Nancy Gardner asked council members for their input after Newport Harbor High School students made the request at the last EQAC meeting, Gardner said at Tuesday's Council meeting.

Councilman Rush Hill objected, saying that EQAC should be focused on the Banning Ranch environmental impact report. City Manager Dave Kiff also reminded the council members that in April, they voted not to pursue a plastic bag ban — one of several items that Kiff asked the council to consider as part of an effort to prioritize staff resources.

The city attorney suggested that the topic be placed on a future agenda, so the council members' discussion ended. The topic was not on Tuesday's agenda, so further discussion could have been in violation of the Brown Act, the state's open-meetings law.

The council passed the ban in March. The ordinance doesn't apply to commercial areas, and organized homeowners association groups can opt out; read the complete ordinance here.

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Dolphins may need to be replaced

The iconic dolphin topiaries that stand in the center of Corona del Mar's main intersection may need to be replaced, according to experts working with members of the Corona del Mar Business Improvement District.

"Everyone has a different opinion," said Scott Laidlaw, a B.I.D. board member, at the group's September meeting. "I think the question is that, because they are overgrown, whether they need to be replaced."

At a July meeting, members of the B.I.D. board discussed the shaggy, overgrown topiaries and decided to consult experts to see the best way to trim them.

"They need a diet," said Mayor Pro Tem Nancy Gardner at the recent meeting. "They look like manatees."

B.I.D. member C. Scott Palmer said he thought the dolphins looked like "anchors or bombs."

Laidlaw said he's discussed the topiaries with experts from Sherman Library & Gardens as well as from Roger's Gardens, and he's been working with three members of Newport Beach City staff.

"This is a very complicated thing," he said. The problems include whether the city is in charge of what gets planted in the median at Marguerite Avenue and East Coast Highway, whether the existing topiaries can be pruned to be slimmer and more dolphin-shaped, and whether the current versions were created from the correct kind of ficus tree, he said.

Corona del Mar Chamber of Commerce President Linda Leonhard asked about one dolphin, which was damaged years ago when a car hit it and still has a wooden post propping it up.

"It's not very attractive," she said.

"When the car hit it, people said, 'Fix it,'" Leonhard said. "We could have a dolphin relief fund."

The 12 dolphin topiaries were planted in 1993. A group of volunteers decorate the dolphins for most holidays, and flags representing the branches of the military are added on patriotic holidays.

The group likely will discuss updates on the dolphins at its next meeting, which is scheduled for Oct. 27.

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