Mayor Keith Curry of Newport Beach has sent Huntington Beach Mayor Connie Boardman a letter. In it, he pitched the idea of agreeing to let his city become the "smoke free alternative" when it comes to beach bonfires, while letting ours assume our rightful stance as the city that still embraces common sense, tradition, economic strength — and a distaste for the "nanny" state.
I'm wondering if Newport is starting to regret letting the Air Quality Management District (AQMD) genie out of the bottle. After all, I noticed on most of the radio and TV interviews I did this week on this issue, the backlash against Newport seems to be picking up steam, judging from the reaction of hosts and callers.
I also wonder if Newport regrets that, according to an L.A. Times story by Gale Holland, one of its most prominent and powerful citizens, John Hamilton (husband of Newport Beach Parks Commissioner Kathy Hamilton, who voted to ban the fire rings), had a meeting with AQMD Chairman and California Coastal Commission member William Burke. This perhaps sealed not just Newport's fate, but Huntington Beach's too. After all, soon after that meeting, Burke stated publicly that he was "100%" sure the ban would pass. This before any public hearings or briefings and absent any scientific evidence specific to this area,.
I've reached out to Burke's people to see about asking him my own questions. But nobody has gotten back to me. Maybe I'd have more luck if I was a powerful Newport Beach oceanfront property owner. That said, while I don't have the beach house, I do have this column, and right now to me that is of far more value.
This column provides a chance to pull back the veil on how the AQMD has been operating. And it allows for the sharing of accountability, information and truth in this matter. In short, everything AQMD seems hell bent on keeping from us.
Remember, according to a city spokeswoman the agency never even notified Huntington Beach that it was planning to ban beach bonfires. It has scheduled no local meetings here in our city to learn about our concerns or our economy — nothing.
The AQMD seems to have forgotten its vow "to allow direct input from community members into the rule-making, technology, and policymaking decisions conducted by the district." It seems to be operating in a vacuum at breakneck speed, with judgment day now one month away. And based on Burke's comment, it seems to have already decided our fate.
At the meeting I attended last week, it seemed obvious which way this is headed, from the executive officer leaving halfway through to the preposterous propane proposal. Yet once the agency crams through testing after proposing a ban (wrong sequence of events?), we will be expected to believe it did not go hunting to find the results that back up its Orwellian government overreach.
Pardon me if I'm a bit skeptical.
Increasingly, the AQMD has been acting like it doesn't have to be accountable. It wants to drop this draconian plan on us and remove one of our greatest pleasures at the beach, while also delivering a massive blow to our economy. And for what? No evidence. No data. Just because of a powerbroker in Newport Beach who got fed up with the smoke.
I say this is the moment. This is when we stand up together and force the AQMD members to deal with us. We pay their salaries. And they don't even give us the courtesy of a visit to hear out the citizens who can't haul off to Diamond Bar on a Friday morning.
Powerful letters from many informed locals, experts in these matters, are being filed this week on our behalf. Tonight I received this from Assemblyman Travis Allen after he read my latest column on this fiasco.
"Dear Dr. Burke:
I am opposed to the proposed Rule 444 Amendment that will prohibit open burning on the beaches of Orange County. This letter is to urge you and your board to act against Rule 444, and allow our coastal cities to make their own decisions.
Our beaches, including our fire rings, provide my constituents in Huntington Beach and surrounding cities with safe, affordable recreational activities. This in turn also brings significant revenue to Huntington Beach from parking fees, retail outlets and restaurants, just to name a few. Our fabulous beaches also attract many tourists who come to Huntington Beach for the same recreation, both day and night. This brings significant revenue to our city.
I strongly urge you to oppose proposed Rule 444 along with the Huntington Beach City Council, the Huntington Beach Chamber of Commerce, my fellow Assembly members, and the countless residents and taxpayers of Huntington Beach who have all spoken out loudly against this proposed rule."
This is our chance to make a difference, to protect something near and dear to us (including our local economy). If we can do this, people will look back and remember this moment as something for the ages: when Huntington Beach stood up and told the AQMD, this is not OK and we are on to you. You are beholden to us, the public, not the other way around. We can make history here, by making enough noise and common sense arguments to reset the balance of power.
If you follow my columns, you know how I feel about the environment. I have been a passionate supporter of the Bolsa Chica Wetlands and other natural environments, and I will continue to be. But environmentalists, like everyone, need facts, not mere emotion, in basing an argument. The AQMD has opted to ban first and build a case later. And we do not have to tolerate that.
Let's tell the AQMD members that they are now being watched, that they are now being held accountable and that cronyism and playing favorites just because the elite feel the need to "privatize" their own beach area just isn't going to cut it anymore — and that they should do some homework before banning one of our greatest cultural icons, the roaring beach bonfire.
Abe Lincoln said, "I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts."
That's what this is about: facts, not emotion and backroom politics.
To share your thoughts with the AQMD board members, you can reach them at http://aqmd.gov/govboard/GB-BAMail-Public.pdf.
To sign the petition to help stop this draconian ban, visit http://www.change.org/petitions/south-coast-air-quality-management-district-governing-board-keep-the-fire-rings-on-our-beaches?utm_campaign=mailto_link&utm;_medium=email&utm;_source=share_petition
And "like" the Facebook page created by the HB Marketing and Visitors Bureau: https://www.facebook.com/SaveTheBonfireRingshttp://www.facebook.com/SaveTheBonfireRings.
Revolutions all start with a spark and I think we've found ours. And remember, there is an April 5 meeting at 9 a.m. in Diamond Bar to discuss this and to set a public hearing date. All are welcome to attend. Then on May 3 is the full public hearing. Imagine not just hundreds attending that day, but thousands, to show that Huntington Beach means business. The headquarters are at 21865 Copley Drive, Diamond Bar.
CHRIS EPTING is the author of 19 books, including the new "Baseball in Orange County," from Arcadia Publishing. You can chat with him on Twitter @chrisepting or follow his column at http://www.facebook.com/hbindependenthttp://ww.facebook.com/hbindependent.