Bonfire Bill Passed by Assembly

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An impending partial ban on beach bonfire rings moved closer to defeat this week with the Assembly’s unanimous approval of a bill that would effectively overturn those restrictions.

Assembly Bill 1102, which was co-authored by Assembly members Travis Allen, R-Huntington Beach, and Sharon Quirk-Silva, D-Fullerton, passed on a 54-0 vote Monday after unanimous approvals out of the Assembly’s Natural Resources and Appropriations Committees.

The proposed law comes after the South Coast Air Quality Management District banned many of the bonfire rings in Orange and Los Angeles counties, effective March 1.

The bill would effectively place decisions to remove the rings in the hands of the California Coastal Commission, whose mandate includes protecting public access to beaches.

A city or county would have to request a “coastal development permit” to get rid of rings, as the Assembly’s attorneys explained:

This bill, retroactive to March 1, 2014, would make inoperative an open burning rule that restricts the use or location of a beach fire ring adopted by the south coast district until a public agency with jurisdiction over the area obtains and implements an approved coastal development permit, as specified.

Between them, Orange and Los Angeles counties have about 765 beach fire rings, with around 90 percent of those rings in Orange County, according to the Assembly’s staff analysis.

In the City of Newport Beach (City), the beach fire rings have been a part of the recreational experience since the late 1940s or early 1950s and are recognized as a lower cost visitor and recreational facility.

In recent years, the City has been the epicenter of a highly publicized debate over whether fire rings should be protected because of their recreational value or strictly regulated because, among other things, the hazards of wood smoke.”

(Click here to read the full analysis.)

The issue arose after Newport Beach tried to remove 60 fire rings from its coast, as KPCC reports

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.”  

The bill now heads to the state Senate’s Rules Committee, which meets every Wednesday.

If it’s approved by the full state Senate, the bill would then go to the governor’s desk.

You can reach Nick Gerda at ngerda@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.

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