Beach bonfires have long been part of the California way of life. Roasting marshmallows, making smores, and spending quality time with family and friends next to an open fire have created countless memories for generations of Californians. But if a government agency gets its way, such experiences will be a thing of the past and the beaches will be deserted after 5 PM.
The South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) recently unveiled a proposal to ban all beach fire pits/rings within Orange and Los Angeles counties. Such fire pits would cease to exist along our coastline. Ironically, I find it amusing that the agency that oversees development of California beaches, the Coastal Commission, sees the fire pits as a form of recreation and wants the rings to stay.
The AQMD says fire pits contribute to Southern California’s pollution and harm public health. The chairman of the District even went so far to compare the smoke from the bonfires to “carpet bombing” during the Vietnam War. To compare beach bonfires to the horrors of war is simply ludicrous. Such a comparison is offensive and it is no wonder that thousands of people have risen up to oppose the fire pit ban. Most reasonable people would know that the environmental impact of beach bonfires is miniscule compared to other sources of smoke.
To be fair, fire pits do raise some legitimate public safety and health issues. For example, some Newport Beach residents who live next to the beach have complained about exposure to wood smoke and floating embers that have drifted to their homes. But they knowingly bought a house next to a beach with fire rings already present. The heart of the matter is local control. Let the Newport Beach city council and residents make the choice. Let the cities and counties decide on the beach fire pits as it concerns their economy, their neighborhoods, and their quality-of-life. If the top concern of Newport Beach’s residents is soot, then it can ban its fire pits if they so desire.
Meanwhile Huntington Beach, which generates $1 million in revenue from beach parking and the purchase of bonfire supplies, can decide to keep its pits in place to maintain tourism. Plus add in the indirect value of the public spending money in beach towns because of family events around the fire pits. To impose a sweeping ban that the AQMD proposes is an unwieldy and unfair one-size-fits-all solution.
Many residents, including my Assembly colleagues who represent the area, support local control that would allow beach fire pits to continue to exist. I believe it is a sensible solution that can satisfy everyone. Equally important, local control helps keep government closest to the people.
The AQMD is a powerful agency with little public oversight. The regulations that the non-elected board members propose can have far-reaching impacts on our economy that are often little-noticed by the public – unless they touch something as popular as beach fire pits. Making the District more transparent is a topic for another day.
The Board of Directors of AQMD will vote on the fire pits ban in June. I hope the board heeds the voices of people who support local control. Until then, we must continue to make our voices heard by letting AQMD know how we feel. We cannot let a small minority of extreme environmentalists and NIMBY activists take away a special part of California’s culture.