Commentary: Local control is the answer to fire ring debate

When I was growing up in Costa Mesa in the '70s and '80s, I remember the days of poor air quality and smog alerts.

Whenever there was a smog alert, recess activities were severely limited at local schools. This happened frequently.

Things are different today. I can't remember the last time I heard about a smog alert. Twenty-somethings have no idea what a smog alert is.

All of this positive change has occurred while millions of beach-goers have been burning wood at local beaches. This is because the amount of pollution generated by a few hundred beach fires is so minuscule that its effect on regional air quality is non-existent.

I'm sure that South Coast Air Quality Management District has played an important role in helping clean our air over the last 30 years. But its proposal to ban wood-burning fires at our beaches suggests that today, it needs to justify its existence by fabricating "solutions" to imagined problems.

The proposal to ban fire pits generated a huge public backlash. So the busy-bodies at AQMD proposed propane as a reasonable alternative. This half-baked idea is pitched as an offer of compromise, promoted as a way to save fire pits, but its implementation will result in their demise.

I've spent some time researching propane fire pits. Nothing on the market today comes anywhere close to what is available with a wood fire. Propane fires are small, the burners are expensive and require lots of maintenance, and they use lots of expensive gas. Wood fires are larger, emit more heat, and are free — the ultimate in low cost recreation. Unfortunately, if the AQMD has its way, wood fires on the beach will be relegated to the history books, just like the smog alerts of my youth.

The AQMD isn't the only agency talking about fire pits. Coastal Commission staff has suggested that fire pits should be recognized as a protected form of recreation, to be saved regardless of the effect on neighbors.

The rules don't need to be so black and white — all or nothing isn't the answer. As usual, local cities know what is best for their community. AQMD should ignore the fire pit issue because the impact on regional air quality is minimal. Let Newport Beach address concerns about local air quality and if Newport Beach determines that fire pits are harming local air, let the city remove them.

Even though I agree that fire pits are an integral part of beach recreation and appreciate the Costal Commission's effort to protect this form of recreation, they need to step aside and let Newport Beach do what is best for their city. It's proper to balance the recreational needs of the region against the burden of the host city. Here, the burden to Newport Beach is great.

If Newport Beach removes its fire pits, the effect on recreation will be fairly small. Newport Beach has very few fire rings, and just a few miles up the road, Huntington Beach has lots of them. Unless AQMD steps in, there will continue to be plenty of recreational opportunities at our beaches.

This seems like an obvious solution to me, and in the real world, it probably is. Unfortunately, regulatory agencies like the Costal Commission and AQMD do not exist in the real world.

Assemblyman ALLAN MANSOOR (R-Costa Mesa) represents the 74th Assembly District, which includes Costa Mesa, Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, Laguna Woods, and portions of Irvine and Huntington Beach.

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