Fire ring

Friends huddle around a fire pit at Big Corona State Beach in Corona del Mar. (Don Leach / Daily Pilot / July 11, 2013)

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The state Assembly on Monday overwhelmingly approved a measure that aims to preserve beach fire rings.

The gathering spots have been at the center of protracted battles in Southern California's beach towns, where regional air-quality officials have stepped up their regulation of the bonfires because of concerns over their effect on health and the environment.

The issue was first raised by Corona del Mar residents living near the pits. Huntington Beach residents quickly took an opposite stance, leading the fight to maintain the rings.

Opponents say the regulations could put a beloved beachfront recreation at risk, harming local tradition and tourism revenues.

The measure, by Assemblyman Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach) and Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva (D-Fullerton), would essentially negate the South Coast Air Quality Management District's regulations on wood-burning fire rings, unless a city is able to “obtain and implement” a coastal development permit to remove or otherwise restrict access to the rings within a two-year window after the AQMD rule was passed.

That means that cities or counties hoping to remove any of their fire rings would have to get permission to do so from the California Coastal Commission, a state agency tasked with preserving public access to California beaches.

Assembly Bill 1102 is “intended to protect not only historical California tradition, but millions in revenue for cities, counties and the state,” Allen said on the Assembly floor.

“At the heart of the matter is an upscale neighborhood in Newport Beach that overlooks a state beach that has beach bonfires,” he said when reached by phone Monday afternoon. “This bill will clearly allow those bonfires to remain as they are, and as they have been for decades for the enjoyment of all Californians, regardless of whether or not they own beachfront property.”

The bill passed by a unanimous vote. It now moves on to the state Senate.

“We’re confident that the Senate will take a different course on the measure,” said AQMD spokesman Sam Atwood. “The bill has a number of flaws that not only affect the South Coast Air Quality Management District, but affect every municipality in the state.”

The bill, Atwood said, would affect cities’ power to regulate hours for bonfires and create rules against burning trash — measures that now fall under cities’ purview — without permission from the Coastal Commission.

But Allen said that was not the case.

“What AB 1102 does is harmonize the jurisdiction between the two agencies,” he said. “It makes it very clear that the Coastal Commission will have the last word when it comes to beach access.” 

melanie.mason@latimes.com

@melmason

Mason writes for the Los Angeles Times.