Fire rings

Dave Osinga and his son Zachary, 6, sit by the fire as the sun sets at Corona Del Mar State Beach. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times / March 1, 2013)

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Proponents and opponents of the much debated beach fire rings aired their feelings about the matter before six South Coast Air Quality Management District staff members Thursday night.

The debate wasn't unlike the back and forth that has been going on for the past few months between those who say the fire pits are a health hazard and those who defend them as a California tradition. It was the AQMD's second public hearing as it gathers information in preparation for a July 12 vote on a proposal that would deliver a mix of regulatory and local control over the wood-burning pits.

Newport Beach wants to remove its 60 fire rings, while Huntington Beach is holding tight to its hundreds of fire pits.

An assemblyman, a congressional aide, city officials and numerous residents from Newport and Huntington Beach exchanged comments at the Hyatt Regency.

Another public hearing will be held in El Segundo on Friday at the Embassy Suites hotel.

AQMD board member and Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido made a late appearance Thursday, but didn't leave without making a statement of his own.

"I've made it very clear that I want to save as many fire pits as I can," Pulido said. "I think they're a part of the Southern California culture.… At this point, I think we're heading toward a sound compromise, but I do want more input from everybody."

The compromise the Santa Ana mayor referred to was the AQMD's proposed amendments to its Rule 444, which regulates open-air burning devices. If approved by Pulido and the rest of the AQMD board, the rule would also cover beach fire rings.

On Thursday, about 30 of the roughly 120 in attendance spoke. More Newport residents were represented than at the May hearing at Huntington Beach City Hall, when less than a half dozen showed up.

Huntington Beach Mayor Pro Tem Matthew Harper and Costa Mesa Mayor Jim Righeimer both voiced their desire to keep the rings.

"Your job is to make the air clean," Righeimer told AQMD staff members. "What's happening here is that you're going a bridge too far. You're going to the point where we're going to lose the backing of the public."

Earlier in the month, California legislators adopted a non-binding resolution written by Assemblyman Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach).

Signed by 59 other cosigners, Assembly Concurrent Resolution 52 describes the fire rings' traditional and cultural significance to the state.

Allen was in attendance Thursday and read his resolution to AQMD staff members and the audience.

"Very simply, we reject all of the AQMD's recommendations. Our message is loud, it is clear: Our bonfire rings are here to stay," he said, followed by loud applause from the audience while others looked at the assemblyman without emotion.

Kathleen Staunton, the district director and representative for Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa), strongly emphasized on his behalf that the fire ring issue shouldn't be handled by the AQMD.


FOR THE RECORD:
An earlier version of this story had the wrong last name for Kathleen Staunton.

"Congressman Dana Rohrabacher would say that this is not your business," Staunton said. "It is not your business to come in here and tell us how to go about our business living our lives.… Whether it's 25 feet or 2,500 feet, whether they're 20 feet apart or 200 feet apart, Congressman Rohrabacher would say this is not your business.