State: Keep Newport's fire rings burning

The fire rings that line Newport Beach should remain in place, says a California Coastal Commission staff report.

Members of one of the state's most powerful agencies ought to deny a request by the Newport Beach City Council to remove all 60 fire pits along Corona del Mar State Beach and the area around the Balboa Pier, according to a staff report.

The commission will vote on the request to jettison the rings when it meets over three days next week in San Diego.

The rings have been the subject of intense debate. While ultimately the city agreed with residents who argued that smoke from the fire pits could create health problems, many residents contended that the fire rings have been at the center of countless fond memories — and should continue to have a place in Newport's beach culture.

To remove the rings, the city would need a coastal development permit because they sit on commission-controlled coastal zones.

In the report, commission staff recommends denying the permit because "removal of the fire rings would deny the public access to this popular form of lower cost public recreation.

"In addition, removing the fire rings from the beaches at Newport Beach and Corona del Mar would shift the already-high demand for fire rings to other coastal locations, creating new access and recreation demands there."

The report also says that the city did not demonstrate that wood smoke from the city's fire rings are "directly responsible for a public health problem," in its application, and that their presence does not violate a new rule adopted by the South Coast Air Quality Management District banning the installation of new wood-burning fireplaces or wood stoves.

The city cited that rule as evidence that such wood-burning apparatuses are believed to generate smoke and particulate matter that could create respiratory health problems.

The report includes letters and comments from dozens of area residents who came down on both sides of the issue.

A letter from Neill and Sally Sullivan, who wrote that they have lived on the ocean front "for over 40 years," said they "have never had a serious problem."

Councilwoman Nancy Gardner said that the report is "disappointing," but she's not surprised about its conclusion.

"I really do sympathize with the residents who live near to them," she added.

If the commission opts to deny the application, she said, "I don't think there is a Plan B."

Ideas about connecting gas lines to the fire rings, or hiring staff to monitor what's being burnt were both eliminated, Gardner said.

Still, regardless of the meeting's outcome, she said, "I will be glad this is closed for the time being."

Twitter: @jillcowan

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