Republicans, Democrats unite in bid to save California beach bonfires

SACRAMENTO, California Mon Jan 27, 2014 11:27pm EST

SACRAMENTO, California (Reuters) - It may be January, but Southern California beach-goers could be forgiven for breaking out the marshmallows early, as lawmakers moved to protect a classic rite of summer - the seaside bonfire.

Under a new anti-pollution measure adopted last year by regulators in charge of air quality for Los Angeles and Orange Counties, fire rings on beaches near houses or in places where air quality was low would have to be removed.

The measure prompted outrage from across the political spectrum in the coastal state, with Republicans railing that unelected bureaucrats were destroying the California way of life.

Likewise, some Democrats complained that removing the fire rings would eliminate an inexpensive and beloved summer ritual for people who can't afford to live in expensive beachfront communities.

Freshman Republican assemblyman Travis Allen, a surfer whose district south of Los Angeles includes several beach communities, took on the issue as one of his first efforts.

His bill, which gives the California Coastal Commission authority over fire pits, passed on Monday in the state Assembly on a vote of 64-0.

One of the few Republican-backed measures to make it through either house of the Democratic-controlled legislature this session, the bill will now go to the state senate, where supporters say they also expect it to pass.

"Everybody loves a beach bonfire," Allen said in an interview at his Capitol office. "It's a safe, fun activity."

Last July, the South Coast Air Quality Management District ruled that beach bonfires send harmful particulates into the air and should be removed if they are within 700 feet of homes.

The agency also said that the pits should be removed from beaches that measure poorly on its air quality index.

"One fire pit in the evening emits as much fine particulate pollution as one big-rig diesel truck driven 564 miles," the agency said in a report announcing the new rules.

But Allen contends the move to ban some bonfires grew out of efforts by wealthy residents in Newport Beach to make the beach near their homes less attractive to party-goers, rather than a genuine concern for the environment.

"This is a beach access issue, masquerading as an air pollution issue," Allen said.

In California, state law is clear that the beaches are public property, and lawmakers tend to err on the side of protecting the rights of all residents to go enjoy the coastline, he said.

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Ken Wills)

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Comments (3)
Whipsplash wrote:
I wish there had been the same level of concern for back country campfires. It’s nearly impossible in California to find an area in the wilderness that allows campfires any more. The same arguments can be made, “California lifestyle”, “affordable summer ritual”, etc. It’s a shame my Grandchildren may never have the opportunity to experience sitting around a campfire in the High Sierra, damn shame.

Jan 28, 2014 3:32am EST  --  Report as abuse
EchoTony wrote:
@ Whipsplash – You are aware there has been a drought over the past few years? The restriction on back country fires would be due to the fact that wild fires are a real concern and too often they are started by campfires.
Sadly, there might be no back country fires for your Grandchildren. However, that’s better than no back country.

Jan 28, 2014 10:40am EST  --  Report as abuse
Whipsplash wrote:
@EchoTony, I live in the Sierra Nevada above 6k feet and know what the conditions are better than most. The fire restrictions have nothing to do with the recent drought, they’ve been in place for over 10 years and they continue to expand them. There are still a few area’s at defined elevations that allow fires and those are restricted by whatever drought conditions are which often is late summer, with high fire danger. I don’t have a problem with that. My beef is with not allowing fires in many wilderness areas for no other reason than the forest service doesn’t like the site of fire rings or blackened rocks.
Regarding your concern for the backcountry, most fires that are started from campfires are started from illegal campfires such as the Rim fire near Yosemite last year, and many in the high-country are started by lightening strikes. Campfires at higher elevations are rarely a problem due to the lack of fuels, the majority of the High Sierra is bare granite, which is how the Rim fire finally ended, it ran up canyons until it hit granite in the high-country.
I won’t go in to the fires caused by “prescribed burns” that get out of control, they used to call them “controlled burns” until it was obvious that they weren’t.

Jan 28, 2014 11:38am EST  --  Report as abuse
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