Newport Beach shifts tactics in fire pit ban fight

Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Newport Beach has withdrawn an application to the California Coastal Commission to remove five dozen fire rings from the city's beaches, but the bonfire battle isn't over. The South Coast Air Quality Management District has scheduled a vote on fire ring regulations July 12.

Newport Beach has withdrawn an application to state regulators to remove five dozen fire rings from the city's beaches, but the bonfire battle isn't over.
    
City Manager Dave Kiff sent a letter to the California Coastal Commission on Tuesday withdrawing the application that sparked a heated debate between residents with environmental concerns and others seeking to maintain a beach tradition.
    
Coastal commissioners were scheduled to vote on the issue July 11, and a staff report had recommended denying the application and keeping the fire rings.
    
But a day later on July 12 another agency, the South Coast Air Quality Management District, has scheduled its own vote, and its staff has recommended regulations that would prohibit fire rings within 700 feet of homes, a move that would include all 60 of the pits Newport Beach wants to remove.
    
The staff also recommended giving Newport Beach, or any other city, the power to remove the fire rings if they're deemed a public nuisance.
    
Kiff told the Orange County Register the application was withdrawn because of the back-to-back votes that could render the Coastal Commission's decision pointless a day after it is made.
    
Kiff wrote in the letter that the city could've amended its application to include gas fire pits or other alternatives, but that "doesn't make much sense" without knowing what the AQMD will decide a day later.
    
It was not immediately clear whether the Coastal Commission would still discuss the issue at its meeting next week, or whether it could make a decision overriding the AQMD on the fire rings.
    
Newport Beach residents have sought to ban the pits, saying the smoke drifts over and pollutes their homes. But neighboring cities, primarily Huntington Beach, want to preserve them to preserve traditions and tourist dollars.
    
The issue has brought national attention and statewide debate. The California Assembly approved a nonbinding resolution in May supporting the fire rings as a "time-honored" and "important beach attraction." Orange County supervisors delivered a similar resolution.

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