Bill seeks to preserve 'iconic' California beach bonfires

Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Zachary Martin, Danielle Dalton and Dane Johnson of Rancho Cucomonga and Kyle Lucas of Newport Beach often spend the day at Huntington Beach and have a bonfire in the evening.

The California State Assembly passed a bill Tuesday that intends to keep bonfires glowing on state beaches. The move comes as new air quality rules may cause some of the fire rings to be removed. 

The bill is co-authored by Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach) and Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva of (D-Fullerton).

The bill is a response to efforts by Newport Beach to remove 60 fire pits from it coast.   

Some Newport Beach homeowners have complained fires send harmful pollutants into their homes. Allen said the fire rings are an affordable activity for people who can't afford multimillion dollar beachfront homes.

"Those bonfire rings are here to stay," said Allen, after the Assembly passed AB1102 on a 54-0 vote. "There is a small, wealthy neighborhood of multimillion dollar beachfront homes and there are a few residents that don't like people on 'their beach' but this is not their beach.  It's wonderful that they have beautiful homes there but this beach belongs to all Californians." 
 
Allen said the issue is about access not air quality. 
    
"In order for someone to remove fire rings they're going to have to get through the [California] Coastal Commission," Allen said. "And the Coastal Commission has been one of the biggest defenders of bonfire rings that there is. To date, the Coastal Commission has always sided on keeping those bonfire rings and keeping access to those bonfire rings for all Californians."  
       
New South Coast Air Quality Management District rules that take effect in March would prohibit fire rings within 700 feet of homes. The agency said the rules would affect about 100 of more than 750 beach fire pits on Los Angeles and Orange County beaches.  

Allen said the legislation requires the SCAQMD to work with cities and the California Coastal Commission before any rings could be removed in L.A. and Orange counties.   

"We've had no air quality days on our Orange County beaches, the ones that are in question," Allen said. "Beach bonfires go on for a few nights for a few months of the year. They are an iconic activity that all of us remember. I've been a Southern California surfer. I grew up here, and this is a part of our lifestyle. And we're going to make sure they stay and the legislature is fully behind this. " 

The bill now heads to the Senate. 

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