The Newport Beach City Council will consider on Tuesday whether to approve plans that would allow wood in the city’s 60 beach fire rings, 10 months after fuel was limited to charcoal-only in order to comply with South Coast Air Quality Management District rules.
The City Council meets for the first time Tuesday since electing four new council members in November. After taking the oath of office at the December meeting, Councilman Scott Peotter, who represents Corona del Mar, immediately requested that the fire rings issue be placed on the Jan. 13 agenda.
According to a map of an interim plan, Big Corona State Beach would have 20 charcoal only rings and seven wood fire rings. The interim plan includes 15 charcoal only rings in the West Balboa/Balboa Pier area, 10 charcoal only rings in the East Balboa/Balboa Pier area, along with eight wood fire rings in the East Balboa area.
The permanent plan would have 18 wood-burning fire rings at Big Corona, including 12 that are spaced 100 feet apart to comply with SCAQMD rules, and six rings spaced between 25 and 50 feet apart. Those rings are more than 700 feet from residences, a distance required by the SCAQMD.
The Balboa Pier area would have 26 rings total, all 100 feet apart. Seven rings would be placed at the Newport Dunes area, and nine would be added at the Newport Pier area. Neither area currently has city fire rings.
The permanent plan would require a development permit from the California Coastal Commission, although the interim plan would not, City Manager Dave Kiff confirmed.
Currently, Big Corona has 27 rings, and the Balboa Pier has 33 rings.
Health advocates and wood smoke opponents Frank and Barbara Peters, who live near Big Corona State Beach, said they were not surprised by news that wood might return to the beach fires. The Peters have expressed concerns about serious health impacts of breathing wood smoke, and although they had pushed for all rings to be removed, Frank Peters said he now believes that the charcoal only rings are a good compromise.
“We knew this was going to come back,” he said. “This will take the rest of our lives.”
Peters said he’s reached out to City Council members, asking to meet with them to urge the status quo of charcoal only. If wood fires return, he said, wind will at times blow smoke straight into his home, damaging his and his neighbors’ health.
“It only takes one (fire),” he said. Spacing them 100 feet apart won’t help, he said. If the City Council approves the plans, he said, he would fight them at the Coastal Commission.
The City Council voted in March 2012 to remove all beach fire rings. The issue went before the California Coastal Commission, then caught the attention of the SCAQMD, which at one point proposed banning all beach fire rings in Los Angeles and Orange counties. In July 2013, the agency instead amended beach bonfire rules, including creating the 700-foot buffer between fire rings and homes.
In November 2013, the city considered a new plan that would have removed more than half the city’s fire rings, but that plan never went before the Coastal Commission for approval. Eventually, the City Council approved the charcoal only rule, and city funds paid for charcoal to be given free to some beach visitors. The city, however, never obtained a coastal development permit for the charcoal only plan, and in November, staff said that the permit request was on hold.
The current City Council has only two members who voted in 2012 to remove fire rings. When asked if the existing council was likely to agree with her, Barbara Peters shrugged.
“It just depends on which way the wind is blowing,” she said.