NEWPORT BEACH, CA – Friends of the Fire Rings, a California-based non-profit organization, filed suit in Superior Court of Orange County on November 26, 2013 against South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) seeking writs of mandate invalidating portions of AQMD Rules 444 and 445 that apply to beach fires, and in an effort to save wood-burning fire rings in the Southern California area.
The lawsuit also claims that Newport Beach City Council officials influenced AQMD officials to, under the guise of scientific air quality concerns, assign arbitrary rules to fire ring placement and spacing.
The suit highlights the intricate spacing and placement language was devised, not for air quality or public health benefit, but to protect the majority of fire rings in cities wishing to retain fire rings (Huntington Beach and some smaller cities) and simultaneously authorizing the removal of virtually all of the fire rings in Newport Beach.
“The AQMD has violated the public trust and acted in excess of its authority by creating a rule based on politics rather than on scientific proof of air quality benefits. The mishmash of beach burning language ultimately adopted by the Board was the result of staff effectively ‘gerrymandering’ the air in order to make a few politicians happy at the expense of millions of Californians that enjoy wood-burning fire rings as part of the California heritage,” stated Melinda Luthin, lead attorney for Friends of the Fire Rings. “It makes no scientific air-quality sense to ban fires on the “granulated sand,” while allowing them at beach campsites a few feet away,” said Luthin.
“While we all wish to strive for clean air, the recent proposals for costly and potentially dangerous designer gas flame fire rings found at resorts are not a substitute for wood-burning fire rings which provide a low-cost activity for Californians of all ages and socio-economic status” said Doug Swardstrom, a leader for Friends of the Fire Rings. “Until and unless we are shown that a viable substitute exists, not one fire ring should be removed,” Swardstrom said.
Our survey from the summer shows that AQMD officials and the Newport Beach City Leadership are out-of-touch with reality, as not only do 89% of Orange County residents support keeping the fire rings, but also 80.4% believe that gas (propane) lines are a “silly and expensive idea,” continued Swardstrom.
In support of its claim that a concern for south coast air quality is not the impetus behind these amendments, Friends of the Fire Rings alleges, “For no apparent scientific reason, the AQMD staff report indicates that the Beach Burn Ban Amendments would only apply to ‘public beaches,’” and “Notably CNB did not seek a ban on residential fireplaces, or residential outdoor fire pits, or any other burning,” such that non-public beaches are not subject to the amendments, and a Recreational Burn Exemption applies “to protect fires at private beaches.” Friends of the Fire Rings asserts these amendments “are not even-handed. Without any rational basis or air quality benefit, the beach burn ban amendments unfairly ban an activity in one location while allowing the same activity in another location,” said Luthin. Copy of petition and July 2013 survey available upon request.