A regional smog agency, attempting to clear the air Friday on the legality of popular fire pits that dot the landscape all along Los Angeles and Orange County beaches, approved halfway measures that ban some, allow others and raise new questions about future crackdowns.
The dispute pitted advocates of the ban, who argued the pits—often used for bonfires—were a pollution hazard, against those who claimed wealthy people living at the shore were trying to get rid of fire ring attendees, who tended to be of a lower socio-economic status.
The South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) voted 7-6 to allow only those pits that are 700 feet from the nearest residence or are at least 100 feet apart. If a city has fewer than 15 pits, they must be at least 50 feet apart. Pit fires are also banned on particularly smoggy days, which should have little effect on their operation.
The most impacted venue will be the city of Newport Beach, where all 60 rings at Corona Del Mar State Beach and Balboa Beach will have to be rearranged to fit the agency’s ruling. Newport Beach kicked off the fire pit festivities in August 2012 when city officials, at the urging of wealthy coast dwellers, asked the California Coastal Commission for permission to remove the rings.
The AQMD got involved when its air regulations were mentioned in the proceedings and a preliminary decision to ban all fire rings at all beaches set off a firestorm of complaints. The compromise, which takes effect March 1, 2014, is expected to leave alone the pits at Dockweiler State Beach, Huntington City Beach, and Bolsa Chica State Beach.
A few dozen fire rings at Huntington State Beach (which has 530) and other beaches would have to be better spread out. But the ruling also empowers individual cities and counties to remove them if they determine that the fire pits are causing a nuisance based on standards set in state law.
Despite the AQMD ruling and delegation of authority to cities and counties, the Coastal Commission maintains that it is the last word on removal of fire pits. According to the Los Angeles Times, the commission is prepared to yield to the AQMD on the air quality issue, but has not ruled out other uses for the pits, like grilling.