AQMD panel opposes Assembly bill

Regional air quality officials Friday voted to oppose a proposed state law aimed at upending regulations that restrict the placement of fire rings on Southern California's beaches.

Members of the South Coast Air Quality Management District's Legislative Committee discussed Assembly Bill 1102 before voting 5 to 1 to oppose it, with Mike Antonovich in dissent.

A vote to oppose AB 1102 will go before the AQMD's full board Jan. 10, an agency spokesman wrote in an email.

The bill, which Assembly members Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach) and Sharon Quirk-Silva (D-Fullerton) introduced earlier this year, came in response to the AQMD's changes to Rule 44 requiring a 700-foot buffer between bonfires and homes and "no-burn days" when fine particulates are at an unhealthy level, among other restrictions.

The changes sparked a raging debate that pitted concerns over the affect on respiratory health of the wood-burning fires against the rings' function as a low-cost form of beach recreation steeped in nostalgia.

The fight has also seen various agencies, including the AQMD and the California Coastal Commission, dueling for legal authority over the rings.

Newport Beach had voted to take steps to get rid of its 60 fire rings, but has since begun working with the AQMD on a pilot program that would replace some of them with versions fueled by natural gas or propane.

Residents who want to keep the wood-burning pits, however, have derided the AQMD's plans to test the alternative fuels as impractical, expensive and unnecessary.

AB 1102 would act as a kind of trump card by changing the state's Health and Safety Code, which governs the AQMD, to prohibit the air quality agency from enacting any rules restricting beach bonfires.

"This bill goes against the policy priorities of [the AQMD], which are meant to protect the public health," according to an AQMD staff report. "The bill would establish a bad precedent that, if adopted, would invite special interests to short-circuit and circumvent [the agency's] local rulemaking process."

The staff report recommended that the committee formally oppose the bill, which has been referred to the Assembly's Natural Resources Committee.

But Allen, who has been a vocal opponent of any restrictions on the fire rings, said in a statement that the AQMD's move this week ignored the desires of "the overwhelming majority of Californians."

"The decision is a continuation of the AQMD's policy of benefiting a few wealthy property owners at the expense of ordinary Californians," he said.

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