Fire ring hearing may be pushed to June

The debate over whether Orange and Los Angeles counties' beach fire rings should be allowed to keep burning could smolder a little longer, thanks to a South Coast Air Quality Management District board vote Friday.

The group was scheduled to decide whether or not to set a formal public hearing and possible vote on the ban for May 3. Instead, following another at times testy discussion — at one point district Board Chairman William Burke compared an aerial view of smoke hovering over Newport Beach's fire rings to "carpet bombing" in Vietnam — it went with something of a compromise.


The board opted to put off its hearing until June 7, pending word from the California Coastal Commission — of which Burke is also a member — saying that the commission would be willing to put off its consideration of Newport's application to remove its 60 fire rings.

If the city of Huntington Beach can provide the district with documentation of Coastal Commission correspondence to that effect by April 12, then the AQMD will bump its consideration of the beach fire ban to June.


Ban opponents said that would give affected city officials more time to meet with district staff and for the public to adequately review any studies related to the fire rings or the possible use of propane tanks in place of wood-burning pits.

If not, interested parties should be prepared to speak up in May.

Huntington Beach spokeswoman Laurie Frymire said she planned to reach out to the commission as soon as possible.

The fire ring issue made it onto the air quality regulators' radar after Newport Beach used an SCAQMD rule in its argument to the Coastal Commission that the city should be allowed to remove its fire rings because of concerns over the negative health impacts of the wood smoke they generate.


A number of types of open burning are already banned, according to AQMD rules — however, beach fires are not on the list. The district's proposed rule change would add beach fires, effectively eliminating fire pits across the region.

When the district held a public hearing on the fire ring issue last month, Huntington Beach officials and residents spoke vehemently against removing the city's fire rings, which they said play a major role in the community and draw millions of tourist dollars.

Friday, Huntington Beach Mayor Connie Boardman said she was looking forward to working with Newport Beach leaders to come up with a viable win-win solution for both cities, as proposed by Newport Mayor Keith Curry last week.

She asked the board to postpone their decision.

"We are very concerned about the fast track this rule has been on," she said, adding that there hasn't been enough public outreach. "Deferring the hearing allows us time to work with Los Angeles and Orange County cities," to come up with a workable compromise.

But at the meeting, Newport's Deputy Community Development Director Brenda Wisneski urged the board to keep fire pits on the May agenda.

After the vote, Boardman said she was "disappointed" with the board's response to the issue.

She had also suggested that the district hold a committee meeting on the fire rings at a beachfront hotel in Huntington — both so that the city's residents could comment on the possible ban, and so that board members could see the hundreds of Huntington beach fire rings in action.


Burke rejected that suggestion.

"Huntington Beach was never even notified they were considering removing the fire rings," Boardman said. "What's happening in Newport Beach is separate."

Twitter: @JillCowan