Commentary: Saving public from wood fires is not a local issue

The big news Friday morning was a proposed mayors-only meeting with South Coast Air Quality Management District board member and Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido.

The purpose: a roll-up-our-sleeves discussion relating to the fire rings.

The AQMD meets next month with the sole focus of determining what to do about 840 fire rings spread across Los Angeles and Orange counties — the bulk of them, roughly 500, in Huntington Beach.

The dispute over the fire rings began in Newport Beach when, in March 2012, the City Council, at the behest of many vocal citizens, voted unanimously to remove the toxic fire pits.

The AQMD eventually became involved and its staff report calls for converting the rings to propane or natural gas by 2015 or removing them.

Huntington Beach freaked, claiming to be asleep as this issue was widely reported in the local press.

Advocating what my self-actualization seminars of the 1970s would call an unproductive "win-lose" game, Huntington opposes the pits' removal and conversion to cleaner fuels — it's Huntington Beach Mayor Connie Boardman's way or the highway, so to speak.

Sadly cynical, parking revenue is the oft-quoted argument heard in favor of keeping the pits.

But many have advocated in favor of the AQMD staff report, especially those living near the smoky pits. There's a well known health risk relating to breathing wood smoke, and those with asthma are particularly at risk.

Fire rings have become hyper-political and few local elected officials can resist chiming in, most in favor of the nostalgia — first kisses and good times — that has become synonymous with the pits. Who can blame them? Really, no one likes to confront lung cancer, emphysema or asthma.

Assemblyman Allan Mansoor's 74th District — which covers some or all of Huntington Beach, Newport Beach and Laguna Beach — has more than 44,000 residents with asthma.

For these residents, going to the beach on a hot summer day brings the added risk of a trip to the emergency room. Not such a pretty picture, certainly no photo-op for a local elected official. I've made my trips to the emergency room with a kid with asthma, so I know first-hand.

All we've heard from our elected officials, whether it's Supervisor Shawn Nelson, Boardman, State Sen. Mimi Walters or Mansoor, is the "local control" argument. That's all they have to trade at this mayors-only meeting — appease Newport Beach, but leave other cities alone.

That's a bit of a sticky wicket because local control means continued suffering for Huntington residents with asthma and other lung diseases.

FRANK PETERS lives in Corona del Mar.

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