Commentary: Each city should make its own fire ring decision

Many issues face us in coastal Orange County.

Our sales and income taxes are the highest in the nation and they must be lowered. We must protect Proposition 13 from those who would reduce its taxpayer safeguards. Crime is going up because of the misguided prisoner release program called “realignment.” Our schools are failing to provide a high quality education for our students.

My opponents in the race to represent the region in the Assembly, however, want to talk about fire rings.

So let’s be clear. I believe each city should decide for itself how to best administer its fire rings. Then-Huntington Beach Mayor Connie Boardman and I initiated this position early in the debate and it has been adopted by the tourism council, Board of Supervisors and Assn. of California Cities.

Huntington Beach does not need state bureaucrats of whatever agency, or out-of-town political opportunists, to tell it how to manage the beach. Neither does Newport Beach.

Like most Southern Californians, I grew up enjoying fire rings. I grew up in Long Beach, which does not have fire rings, so we would go to Huntington Beach. The wind, geography, adjacency to residents and other factors are different in Huntington Beach compared to Newport Beach and one answer does not necessarily fit for all.

In our city, we heard testimony from residents affected by smoke nearly every day. Scientific testimony indicated one fire pit released particulate matter equal to the secondhand smoke from 800 cigarettes or three diesel trucks. More recent data indicates that particulate matter released from wood smoke is a carcinogen.

In our city, we adopted a plan that keeps wood-burning fire pits but reduces the number by half and restricts the type of fuel used to clean wood or Duraflame-type logs. We also agreed to experiment with new natural gas pits similar to those at high-end resorts.

These would be situated closer to parking areas and fueled by a pipe running under the paved surface. They are larger to accommodate church and youth groups and to be accessible by the disabled.

This may not be the right solution for Huntington Beach. Only its elected officials should make that call. But it is right for our city and was unanimously adopted by our City Council. We welcome 100,000 visitors a day to the beach and we want them to have a safe and enjoyable experience.

Incidentally, we have our own issues with the South Coast Air Quality Management District, which, in an odd letter, told us that to comply with its new rule, we could either reduce the number of wood-burning fire pits by 50% more than we proposed or double the number of fire pits we proposed. We would have to space them, in some cases, to be in the water line or the volleyball courts.

This response is an example of why state bureaucrats and out-of-town political opportunists should not tell local cities what to do. In the Assembly, I will fight for the right of communities to make local decisions.

KEITH CURRY is a council member in Newport Beach and candidate for the 74th Assembly District.

Editor’s note: This piece originally appeared in the Daily Pilot’s sister publication, the Huntington Beach Independent.