NEWPORT BEACH, CA – Following Newport Beach City Council’s recent decision to move ahead with Mayor Curry’s complex, multi-tiered super-ordinance, which includes an agreement to purportedly “participate” in the AQMD alternative fuels fire rings feasibility study, Friends of the Fire Rings filed a motion with the Orange County Superior Court seeking an injunction to prohibit the removal of more than half the City’s fire rings until the case filed by Friends of the Fire Rings with the AQMD has been adjudicated (case 30-2013-00690328-CU-WM-CXC), and legitimate air quality testing has been completed.
Despite public outcry against the removal of the fire rings, the California Coastal Commission’s clear indication that all fire rings should remain as a low cost public recreation activity, and questions about the AQMD’s science, Newport Beach City Council remains on its course to remove as many fire rings as they can get away with. Under the super-ordinance, the Council will not be converting the existing fire rings to alternative fuel. Instead, the City Council plans to remove more than half the fire rings along the Balboa Peninsula and most of the fire rings at Big Corona, ‘replacing’ the fire rings with two narrow, long, ‘resort style’ gas burning fire pits that are to be installed on the sidewalks next to the parking lots and bathrooms on the Peninsula.
On November 26th, 2013, Friends of the Fire Rings, a California-based non-profit organization, filed suit in Superior Court of Orange County against the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD), seeking writs of mandate invalidating portions of AQMD Rules 444 and 445 that apply to beach fires, in an effort to save wood-burning fire rings in the Southern California area.
The lawsuit states 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 intricate spacing and placement language 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 to simultaneously authorize the removal of virtually all of the fire rings in Newport Beach.
Friends of the Fire Rings is questioning the applicability and/or validity of the studies the AQMD cites. Even Newport Beach’s own city council member, Tony Petros, stated in a City Council meeting on November 26th, “I don’t find the AQMD studies to be conclusive. I happen to be a partner in an environmental planning firm. And I have asked my air quality specialists to weigh in on these studies, and they arrive at the very same conclusion. So, I don’t know that there’s science to the conclusions that have been drawn by the AQMD.”
Melinda Luthin, counsel for Friends of the Fire Rings stated, “While Newport Beach’s City Council stated that the super-ordinance was necessary to implement the AQMD beach burning amendments adopted last summer, this is not the case. In fact, under the AQMD amendments beachgoers are free to use the rings for charcoal, and there is no regulation requiring the removal of the rings at all, nor is any action required prior to March 2014.”
Even if well-conducted and properly applied research suggested the removal of beach fire rings, the City Council’s plan to speedily remove half of the rings in winter (when they are rarely used) seems curiously rushed in light of the fact that the science of the studies cited by the AQMD is being called into question, even within the City Council itself.
“Remarkably, Mayor Curry and the Newport Beach City Council members have continued to show their blatant disregard for the wishes of their constituents and the numerous problems associated with their decision making process by moving forward to alter California’s beach fire rings under the auspices of ‘health,’” said Doug Swardstrom, a leader with Friends of the Fire Rings.
“The recent AQMD measures are not based on credible science, but are rather the results of political lobbying of the AQMD by a few people in Newport Beach resulting now in ‘gerrymandered air.’ ‘Designer’ and ‘resort-like’ gas rings in the parking lot near the bathrooms are not a substitute for bonfires on the beach.” Continued Swardstrom.
Even Newport Beach City Councilmember Ed Selich stated, “I find it hard to imagine the romanticism of having a fire ring next to a parking lot.”
“Our survey shows that 89% of Californians want to keep wood-burning fire rings ‘as-is’ – plain and simple,” Swardstrom said.
Friends of the Fire Rings is a non-profit organization including Newport Beach and other Orange County citizens. Info on the organization can be found at www.SaveTheFireRings.org