In The Pipeline: Anti fire-ring AQMD member’s odd resignation


The bonfire fight has never been hotter (or weirder) then it is right now.

On April 12, I went to visit Assemblyman Allan Mansoor in his Costa Mesa office. I have been in touch with a number of local elected officials about the looming draconian ban on beach bonfires about to be imposed by the Air Quality Management District (AQMD). By now I’m sure you’ve heard the story.

Mansoor told me that on April 14, he would be releasing a letter addressing this issue to California Attorney General Kamala Harris.

After the weekend, I saw the letter, which effectively and reasonably called into question the conflict presented by William Burke serving on both the California Coastal Commission and the Air Quality Management District, and asked for an opinion. (Burke is pushing hard for the ban.)

It included this passage: “The clashing interests between the South Coast Air Quality Management District and the California Coastal Commission make it impossible for one member to be an effective and loyal representative on both bodies.” It goes on to say that the appropriate remedy would be for Burke to give up the longest-held of his offices — with the SCAQMD.

When interviewed about the letter after its release, Mansoor also touched on the fact that many people were offended by comments made by Burke and SCAQMD board member Dennis Yates comparing Newport Beach bonfires with Vietnam carpet bombing.

Burke was defiant. In reaction to this letter, he was quoted as saying that not only would he not apologize for the Vietnam remark but that there was certainly no conflict in his dual appointments.

So it was shocking that Burke very soon after resigned his seat on the California Coastal Commission.

Right after denying anything was wrong, he resigns. And, mind you, not from the board that, as Mansoor points out, would be the legally proper one to vacate, the AQMD.

There is something else extremely peculiar about Burke’s resignation letter, which I have seen. It is dated April 12, the Friday before Mansoor’s letter even appeared.

So what exactly is going on here? Since noticing the date on the letter, I have reached out to ask about it, but as has now become commonplace, Burke and his people simply ignored the request.

We have paid their salaries, but they will not even answer an email. Is he gearing up for a knock-drown, drag-out battle royale with our city?

Burke, who has also served on the California Fish and Game Commission, and the City of Los Angeles Fire Commission, seems to never have met a commission he couldn’t serve on. But now all of a sudden, he issues this letter with a suspicious date just one day after denying anything was even wrong. Where is the media coverage on this?

It’s yet another mystery in a series of belligerent, arrogant and now suspicious moves that further taint this insidious maneuver by the AQMD to try to ban all Southern California beach bonfires. And remember, much of this is the result of a few intolerant and well-to-do Newport Beach residents complaining in private to Burke, a meeting that seemingly unleashed the beast.

We may never know what was said in that meeting, but we do know what the outcome has been: a move by the AQMD to strip away something that represents a huge part of our culture and our local economy and, perhaps most importantly, is an affordable way for lower-income people to enjoy the beach during an economic time that is crushing on many fronts. What about them?

Furthermore, the announcement to do this was made before any scientific testing was conducted. But because the people are rising up, angry and demanding answers, the AQMD is now actually scrambling to find the science to back up its outrageous proposal.

A monitoring device was set up last week in Huntington Beach. Where did the AQMD position it? Sandwiched between the AES power plant and Pacific Coast Highway, ensuring perhaps that the toxins being belched from both the plant and the heavy automobile traffic would reflect the results it desperately needs to back up this ludicrous maneuver. Look at the AQMD’s actions thus far. Does it really seem beyond reason that the agency would try to stack the deck?

District board members refuse to answer calls, and someone at their meeting Friday told me that Yates whined about the voluminous amount of emails he’s getting in response to what he and Burke are pushing so hard for. Not only did he complain about the emails, but he also said they’re not even getting read.

Fine. Let’s take to the phones then. If you would like to let AQMD know directly what you think, the main number is (909) 396-2100. You can still email And here are some videos I’ve assembled of Burke and Yates comparing Newport Beach with Vietnam, among other things:

June 7 is the day of reckoning; the vote is scheduled for the AQMD headquarters in Diamond Bar at 9 a.m. Many of us are organizing what we hope will be a massive turnout to pressure the board to do what many of us believe to be the right thing. But calling and emailing now can make a difference. Despite Yates’ flippant remarks about feedback, the heat is being felt — so let’s turn it up.


On Another Note

Also, some events are planned as we approach June 7. I will be appearing Sunday at the fantastic Taste of Huntington Beach being held at the sports complex next to Central Library. Immediately afterward, at 4 p.m., local pianist Vern Nelson will be performing a “save the bonfires” show at the library. Tickets are $10.

Mayor Connie Boardman and I will be speaking. Taste of Huntington Beach promises to be special thanks in large part to the efforts of my dear friend Gail Page. Visit for tickets.

Last, a special thanks to the many students who sent in submissions for my annual essay competition. The work was exceptional. I’ll announce the winner next week.

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