Fire rings a hot topic at 'Meet the Mayor' event

After a monthslong regional battle on the topic, Newport Beach doesn't know when — or if — it will be able to remove fire rings from its beaches, Mayor Keith Curry told residents Saturday morning.

Curry explained this at his "Meet the Mayor" event at the Newport Coast Community Center, where seven residents showed up to talk and some urged the city to move quickly on removing fire rings.

Newport's application to California's Coastal Commission to remove its 60 fire rings sparked a debate that culminated this month when the South Coast Air Quality Management District adopted new regulations restricting some burning and giving cities more power to regulate fire rings on their own beaches.

Newport is working toward that end goal, but the city is still weighing questions about the process, Curry said.

The city pulled its Coastal Commission application in anticipation of the AQMD's decision, but now city staff is trying to decide if they need to resubmit it, Curry said.

The possibility of alternative fuel replacement for the current wood-burning pits could also affect the timing of removal, according to the mayor.

Balboa Peninsula resident Charles Farrell told Curry that he and his neighbors want a quick end to the fire pits' smoke.

"I'm here to encourage you to move forward as fast as possible to get those things off our beach," Farrell said, asking Curry for a timetable in the wake of the AQMD's new regulations.

But it's not as simple as pulling the pits out, Curry replied, noting that the AQMD regulations don't go into effect until March.

It's possible the city could remove the rings before then, but Curry said city officials will at least wait while the AQMD gathers proposals to install alternative-fuel-burning fire pits in place of wood-burning rings, something Newport has agreed to work on with the state agency.

"Once the AQMD's [request for proposals] for that alternative fuels is ready, then I think we're ready to bring it back to the council," Curry said, noting that could happen in August or September.

The last question revolves around the Coastal Commission and whether the AQMD's new rules will indeed make it easier for Newport to remove the fire pits, according to the mayor.

"We have two state agencies in conflict with each other, so nobody knows what the rules are," Curry said. "Nobody knows what the ultimate final solution is going to be here."

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