As you may have heard, the South Coast Air Quality Management District is leaning toward a recommendation that would essentially allow Huntington Beach to maintain its fire rings and Newport Beach and Corona del Mar to get rid of theirs.
While this is by no means a done deal, it is certainly encouraging and amplifies the need for all interested parties to attend the July 12 meeting in Diamond Bar to voice their opinions before the final vote.
The AQMD apparently is leaning this way because its initial monitoring revealed what many of us have thought all along: There simply is no great health hazard being caused by the fire rings in Huntington Beach.
As for the situation in the Newport area, it's hard to say. Does it seem sort of odd that the proposed amendment would not allow fire pits within 700 feet of houses, when the homes of the complaining beachfront property owners fall within yards of that limit?
That said, the AQMD held a public meeting in Newport Beach last week. Out of all of these meetings I've been to, this was the most fascinating. It pointed out very clearly the overwhelming support for the fire pits, and not just in Huntington Beach but in the Newport area as well.
After a brief AQMD presentation on its findings, the wild night got underway.
Assemblyman Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach) gave a rousing, firm address on behalf of the city.
"Very simply, we reject all of the AQMD's recommendations," he said. "Our message is loud, it is clear: Our bonfire rings are here to stay."
The crowd went wild. (Recently, California legislators adopted a nonbinding resolution written by Allen. It describes the fire rings' traditional and cultural significance to the state.)
Huntington Beach Mayor Pro Tem Matthew Harper and Costa Mesa Mayor Jim Righeimer also spoke passionately, and factually, about saving the fire rings, again, to rousing applause.
Kathleen Staunton, the district director and representative for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach), delivered an equally powerful speech that also brought big applause. The coalition put together by Huntington Beach city officials is extremely impressive and made quite an impact.
It also emphasized, glaringly, that Newport Beach, the city that started all of this, did not have one single official speaker. Not one. Do they not know what this means to people? (Newport Beach Councilwoman Leslie Daigle, who wrote a terrific editorial supporting the rings, was in attendance but did not speak.)
As has been the case at these meetings, the vast majority of residents spoke eloquently against the proposed ban. Some we've heard from before, but many new and fresh voices have taken up the cause.
I found it particularly interesting to finally hear from Newport area residents, at least more than the same three or four who make the rounds. These newer voices gave life to what many of us have imagined — that many people in Newport want their rings saved.
And yes, as mentioned, the usual suspects were there to call for an all-out ban on fire pits throughout Southern California. This includes the husband and wife from the beachfront in Corona del Mar who like to take some credit for starting this whole episode.
And once again there was the mom from Huntington Beach who brings her young child to meetings as she describes how hard it is to live near the smoke.
For me, her case in particular begs the question: Why did you move to the beach in the first place, knowing the fire pits were there and believing they present a health hazard for your child?
Maybe a few rings have to be moved around. Maybe we need to better monitor exactly what is burned. But an outright, across-the-board ban? It's as silly a premise now as it was several months ago when the AQMD presented it.
Today, even the AQMD seems to accept that.
On July 7, Allen will be hosting a huge beach bonfire party featuring lots of good food, music and, of course, roaring bonfires. Details will follow soon, but mark your calendars for that Sunday as we all get together for some fun in preparation for the big vote later that week.
Continued great work, Huntington Beach. We are showing the world how it is done.
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 http://www.facebook.com/hbindependent.