The Orange County Board of Supervisors Tuesday took an official position against the highly contentious effort to ban beach bonfires in Southern California.
Supervisors voted 4-0 to oppose the ban, which will be decided by the South Coast Air Quality Management District board June 7.
The bonfire pits are a classic part of California culture and a symbol of freedom, supervisors said.
“It’s about a lifestyle,” said Supervisor Todd Spitzer, adding that “there are some things that are sacred about those fire rings,” like first outings with friends and first kisses.
He described the proposal as an effort to “strip residents and visitors of the freedom to have this on a beach.”
“I just think we’re taking all the fun out of life” if the ban goes forward, Spitzer said.
Newport Beach residents have argued that the fires are a health and safety hazard. They’ve enlisted support from their city officials, who have been pushing for the ban.
That has prompted a fierce counter campaign from Huntington Beach residents and city officials. The two cities have been locked in a battle over the issue ever since, with opponents suggesting the effort is aimed at discouraging working class residents from enjoying Newport Beach.
A ban by air quality officials would shut down more than 700 beach bonfire rings in Orange County as well as every beach pit in Los Angeles County.
Supervisor John Moorlach joined in leveling criticism at the air quality district, saying he “would encourage AQMD to not tread further on this subject.”
Moorlach also complained about beach curfews, with police at many beaches rolling up to beach-goers at 10 p.m. to shut down the partying.
“Why would I want to leave the beach at 10 o’clock?” asked Moorlach, who suggested that curfews be eliminated.
Supervisors Chairman Shawn Nelson abstained from voting because he also serves as on the South Coast AQMD board. At the same time, however, he echoed concerns that the air quality proposal has popped up out of nowhere.
The fire pits “had nothing to do with” the region’s air quality plan, Nelson said.
If Newport Beach residents are so concerned about bonfire smoke, he added, the city should install gas-fired pits.
The bonfire ban is said to have been heavily advocated by South Coast AQMD Chairman William Burke, who resigned unexpectedly last week from the California Coastal Commission.
Voice of OC has an ongoing Public Records Act request for all email traffic this year between Burke and South Coast AQMD staff, among other officials.
The agency has exceeded the 10-day limit under state law to state when the records will be released. It also hasn’t cited any specific Public Records Act exemptions in order to redact information.
Burke’s resignation from the Coastal Commission has been attributed to his comparison of beach bonfires to “carpet bombing” in Vietnam and to complaints to state Attorney General Kamala Harris that Burke had a conflict of interest by serving on both the AQMD and Coastal Commission boards.
But local historian and activist Chris Epting has noted that Burke’s April 12 resignation letter came before Assemblyman Allan Mansoor, R-Costa Mesa, wrote Harris about the alleged conflict.
That has Epting wondering whether there’s more to Burke’s resignation than meets the eye. “What exactly is going on here?” Epting asked Monday in the Huntington Beach Independent.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that William Burke resigned from the South Coast Air Quality Management District. We regret the error.