As regional air quality regulators continue to weigh a possible ban on beach fire rings in Los Angeles and Orange counties, Newport Beach Mayor Keith Curry called on his Huntington Beach counterpart to put up a united front — in favor of compromise.
"We can support your ability to retain fire rings based on local wishes before [the South Coast Air Quality Management District] and you would support our efforts to remove the rings, also based on local concerns and geography," Curry proposed in a letter he sent to Huntington Beach Mayor Connie Boardman last week.
At a meeting Friday morning, the district board is slated to decide whether to set a public hearing and a possible vote on the ban for May 3.
Board members could also direct staff to look further into the issue or propose alternatives to a blanket ban on open beach burning, such as using propane instead of more toxic wood, said district spokesman Sam Atwood,
Atwood said the item is on the consent calendar, meaning it's up for a vote but no discussion, but because of the intense ongoing debate over whether one of Southern California's more beloved traditions should be extinguished in the name of health, he said he expects it will probably be separated for more discussion.
The proposed rule change, district staff said at a meeting last week, was in part sparked by Newport Beach's application to the California Coastal Commission to remove the city's 60 fire rings at Corona del Mar State Beach and near the Balboa Pier.
But at that meeting, Huntington Beach residents cried out that the hundreds of fire rings lighting the city's nights draw tourist dollars like moths to — well, a flame.
"People don't go to the beach in the evening to sun tan," Dianne Thompson, Huntington Beach Chamber of Commerce chairwoman, said at the meeting. She cited an estimated $1-million loss just in beach parking revenue after 3 p.m. "This would impact us more than any community."
Boardman could not be reached by Tuesday afternoon.
Curry said Tuesday that while Newport Beach has been supportive of the ban, which could help tip the Coastal Commission's decision in the city's favor, "The focus has always been on our beaches and the health of our residents."
The potential conflicting interests of the commission and the AQMD, he said, "shows that this should really be left for cities to deal with locally."
He added that Corona del Mar homes are much closer to the beach and the resulting wood smoke than homes in Huntington.
Curry said the city believes Huntington's leaders will be "favorably inclined" to the idea of making Newport's beaches "a smoke-free alternative for beachgoers across the region," while other cities "can be the fire ring alternative," as he wrote in the letter.
As the city has done in the past, Curry questioned the safety of propane or gas lines connecting to the beach.
Laguna Beach Mayor Kelly Boyd said Tuesday that he's never heard complaints from residents living on cliffs above the Orange County-run Aliso Beach, which has seven fire rings. It stretches roughly between downtown and South Laguna.
He noted the differences between homes neighboring Big Corona versus the set-up of residential areas near other beaches.
"It's kind of like comparing apples and oranges," he said.
Furthermore, Boyd said, Laguna locals tend not to use Aliso, so the removal of fire rings there might have a bigger impact on inland communities.
Either way, he said, he doesn't see Laguna wading into the morass any time soon.
"People have been burning wood for hundreds of years," he said.
Costa Mesa Mayor Jim Righeimer said the fire rings have long been an affordable way for his community's residents to enjoy the beach.
"I don't know anybody in this city who wants the fire pits removed," he told a district spokeswoman who addressed the Costa Mesa City Council on Tuesday night.