Dual-serving coastal commissioner resigns under fire

California Coastal Commissioner William Burke — who vocally supported dousing beach bonfires in Newport Beach and Huntington Beach — has resigned amid pressure from two state legislators.

Burke is chairman of the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s governing board, which is considering banning wood-burning rings along the coast from San Clemente to Malibu for health reasons.

Until this week, he also held a position on the Coastal Commission, where staff has recommended the board deny Newport Beach the ability to remove 60 fire pits along its coastline. The resignation was made public Wednesday.

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 Attorney General 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 claim, 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-long letter.

The Coastal Commission was not aware of any resignation until the letter was submitted to them late Wednesday afternoon, said the organization’s legislative director, Sarah Christie.

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.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to Mansoor’s capitol director as Saul London.

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

Some of those constituents were prepared to sue over the alleged conflict, he added.

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.

The fight over wood burning on beaches has continually grown since Newport Beach’s council voted in March to remove its fire pits.

Before it can do so, the Coastal Commission must grant Newport a permit; Coastal Commission staff has recommended against that action, saying it would limit access to low-cost beach recreation.

Commissioners, though, delayed a vote on Newport while the AQMD considers banning wood burning from beaches in the region altogether.

Huntington Beach city officials and residents have loudly opposed a ban, saying it would strip them of millions of tourist dollars and a cherished tradition.

The AQMD will take up the issue again at its June 7 public hearing.