Wu: Fire rings are a political boomerang

Albert Einstein once defined insanity as, "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

That's what it feels like with the Corona del Mar fire ring saga as the California Coastal Commission's Sept. 13, 2012 letter to Newport Beach essentially asked if the city even read its first June 11, 2012, letter requesting more information.

Let's catch everyone up.

Fancy, wealthy, politically influential CdM residents have been complaining for decades that people from out of town use the fire pits near their homes and take up parking on local streets.

But up until now, none of the previous council members could get enough traction to pull the trigger and remove the pits.

Enter Mayor Nancy Gardner, who is concerned that Newport Beach could be endangered by the same ridiculous lawsuits that Huntington Beach suffered from drunken people who fall into the fires. I suppose those giant "Caution" and "Danger" warnings imprinted in red on the fire pits aren't sufficient warnings for certain people.

Without a peep of discussion, more than50 years of wonderful childhood memories for beachgoers were gone with a populist, unanimous vote by our Magnificent Seven.

I have contended in my previous, masterfully written columns, that the anti-fire-pit people didn't like the gangbangers (white and non-white), or at least those who fit the stereotypical descriptions of gang members, from the Inland Empire visiting CdM beaches and having fun.

Fire-ring opponents, however, have said they don't like the fire pits because the smoke that comes from burning wood is dangerous to their health. Smoke, they say, is a carcinogen. It's also bad for the environment.

In the Coastal Commission's first letter to the city, it asked for real scientific and empirical data. You mean just saying that smoke is bad for you isn't scientific?

Then the Coastal Commission had the nerve to actually ask: Who uses the fire pits? When are they used the heaviest? Is there a reservation system?

The city responded on Aug. 10, but apparently only brushed over the details. In regards to requests for scientific data, the city said that because of the wind and fog, it would be difficult to provide some of the requested data.


Then the city mentioned South Coast Air Quality Management District Rule No. 445, which says that smoke from wood-burning devices is essentially bad for you. Nevermind the fact that rule 445 exempts campfires, beach bonfires and ceremonial burning.

Oops, forgot that part, huh?

In regards to who uses the fire pits, the city just responded that residents and visitors use them on a first-come, first-served basis, essentially all the time but more so in the summer.

I think I just lost a few IQ points (few to spare, I know) repeating the city's response.

So the Coastal Commission's coastal program analyst, Jeffrey Rabin, wrote the city back asking, in essence, did you actually read what you sent us before sending it to us?

Not really, but that was gist.

"In our last letter we asked a series of questions regarding the alleged air quality impacts of the fire rings to which you didn't fully respond," Rabin wrote. "Therefore, we request your response to the following questions: How has the city documented the air quality impacts of the fire rings?

"Have air samples been taken at the beach or neighboring homes? If so, please provide the results of that sampling. How does the city know definitely the source of smoke in adjacent neighborhoods? Are there regular air quality monitoring stations in Corona del Mar and the vicinity of Balboa Pier."

Regarding the people who use the fire pits, Rabin writes, "We are still waiting for that data."

You mean just saying lots of people use the fire pits isn't good enough? How dare they ask for real data and "… copies of the annual report covering the last five fiscal years, which the city files each year with the California Department of Parks and Recreation?"

My wonder, in these lean economic times, is why is the city wasting precious city employee time and energy to deal with such a NIMBY issue that they apparently are not able to justify with real scientific data instead of just anecdotes and misapplied air quality management district rules?

JACK WU is an accountant who lives in Newport Beach and practices in Costa Mesa. He is a longtime Republican Party loyalist and a volunteer campaign treasurer for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa). His column runs Sundays on the Daily Pilot Forum page. He can be reached at jack@wubell.com.

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