In the Pipeline: Tired of AQMD's non-responsive behavior

People keep asking me whether I think the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) will vote June 7 to ban beach bonfires in much of Southern California.

I've been invited to speak before several groups in the last few weeks, and the question persists. I get daily emails from all kinds of people — young adults to a 92-year-old man.

I even heard from an AQMD employee who was just as fed up because of the very real perception that some board decisions appear to be made for political rather than scientific reasons.

Remember, this all started with a couple of intolerant Newport Beach residents who were able to wrangle a one-to-one meeting with AQMD head William Burke.

The AQMD employee, after venting (poignantly and intelligently) several times to me, frustrated, asked, "What do you think will happen?" And I answered, as I do to everyone that asks me, "I just don't know. But I don't like the signs."

That said, I do have a new respect for many AQMD employees. I realized after getting to know this person, that there are those inside who are frustrated too. They do not like appointed officials who don't always follow science — or even basic reason.

I contacted AQMD to ask about that. I'm still waiting for a response.

I don't like that AQMD has stopped answering questions that I pose, both to their spokesman, Sam Atwood, and to individual board members. I don't even get non-responses anymore. I'm just flat out ignored.

And I, like you, pay their salaries.

I don't like hearing from people who have been in meetings, who tell me that several AQMD board members have taken a severe dislike to me personally and state so aloud.

Why?

Evidently because I have quoted them, described their behavior and pointed out odd little facts like how they never notified our city about this or how the decision was made absent of specific scientific data regarding Huntington Beach.

I don't like how AQMD board Chairman William Burke and Chino Mayor Dennis Yates compared Newport Beach bonfires to Vietnam War carpet bombing, then became unhinged when I told them I found it offensive.

These men are in charge of science?

I don't like how some factions of the AQMD seem, in this case, to use science to suit their beliefs, rather than pursuing truth at its highest level. Or how Burke dismisses people like Huntington Beach Mayor Connie Boardman, who actually is a scientist.

I really don't like how some of them brush away economic concerns about the proposed ban, acting as if that's nothing but a troublesome speed bump.

I didn't like how when Burke resigned recently from the California Coastal Commission, he did so in the midst of what has been described as the potential for conflict of interest with his role on the AQMD board.

I wrote asking why he resigned so abruptly.

No answer.

For 20 years, Burke has been head of the AQMD board. I do not like how focused he seems, by his own words and actions, in banning fire rings. He is strangely committed to making this happen.

Which is why, from the beginning, I have felt like the fix has been in on this issue. It was Burke, after all, who publicly announced months ago that this ban was 100% guaranteed.

When I asked him about that, face-to-face, he denied it. Brushed me away as if I was an annoyance. I dared hold him accountable for his words.

Burke and his cronies do not scare me. Nor should they scare you. Remember, we pay them. And as unelected and unchecked as they may be, we can still make a difference.

In fact, we've already made a difference.

Think they counted on this being delayed and fought over? No.

This was to have been pushed through quickly and quietly. Then they learned this wasn't Newport Beach with whom they were dealing. It's Huntington, and we handle our business a little differently.

I don't know what will happen. But I do know what we can do. Get involved. Make calls. Send emails. Press them. Let them know you care. They are not used to this kind of pushback. And we have gotten their attention in a huge way.

Of course, also show up on June 7 at their offices in Diamond Bar for the final vote. Let's be there en masse.

If Burke wants to ban the rings, let him say it to all our faces, while the world is watching.

Here's what else you can do: Show up from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Friday, as Santa Ana Mayor and AQMD Board Member Miguel Pulido speaks to us.

He has asked the AQMD to present background on the issue of wood burning and why the district has taken a sudden interest in fire rings. The bulk of the meeting will be for the public to provide input and share their thoughts on our tradition of having wood-burning fire rings at the beach.

The meeting will also be broadcast live on HBTV 3 and recorded for the city website.

Come prepared to ask good, hard, direct questions and to state your case, whatever side you happen to be on.

I look forward to seeing all of you there.

All that said, I salute you, all of my fellow residents here in Huntington Beach who have gotten involved in this issue. You have been remarkable.

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/hbindependen.

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