Posted January 22, 2015 By Frank Peters
Fire pits are moved closer to resident homes

City crews are on the beach rearranging the fire pits – some are moved closer to resident homes

Cognitive dissonance: After days of poor air quality that resulted in 4 NO BURN DAYS, the City commits to wood burning

Cognitive dissonance: After days of poor air quality that resulted in 4 NO BURN DAYS, the City commits to wood burning

“They’ll be open for business by Friday,” said City Manager Dave Kiff regarding implementation of the City’s new wood burning plan.

After two days of terrible air quality – after 4 days in a row of NO BURN DAYS, crews are on the beach rearranging the fire pits.

It’s immediately obvious that some of the pits are 100 feet closer to resident homes, some on top of a nearby volleyball court.

But now, as virtually all appeals are exhausted, for City staff it’s just a matter of putting the ethics of what you’re doing out of your mind and executing the plan.

Beachgoers will be burning wood again, after almost 10 months of cleaner burning charcoal. And they’ll be burning even closer to nearby resident homes.

Hopefully they won’t give a minute’s thought to the growing body of scientific evidence which describes the adverse health effects.

Once you get beyond the ethics of poisoning people, it just becomes a project

Once you get beyond the ethics of poisoning people, it just becomes a project




Posted January 19, 2015 By Frank Peters
Anything goes at the beach fire pits. Signs announcing charcoal-only have been removed.

Anything goes at the beach fire pits — signs announcing charcoal-only have been removed.

It was another controversial news cycle for beach bonfires here in Newport Beach last week.

On Tuesday a new City Council voted to return wood burning at the fire pits and the public seemed eager to celebrate. It’s a holiday weekend with bigger than average attendance at the beach. Sources on the peninsula reported that all the fire pits were burning wood this weekend.

Ironically, both Sunday and Monday have been declared NO BURN DAYS by the Air Quality Management District, but that didn’t stop beachgoers from sparking up the bonfires.


All signs advising charcoal-only have been removed from the beach. The problem with no fuel restrictions is that the fire bugs will burn anything – painted and varnished wood, pallets, scrap lumber, trash, newspapers – anything that will burn, which adds to the downwind toxic impact.

In the City’s rush to return to their caveman roots, they forgot one thing – there’s a regional air quality agency that has jurisdiction over pollution sources. Wood burning in the fire pits today doesn’t comply with AQMD Rule 444. This first-in-the-nation beach bonfire regulation requires that fires be 700 feet from resident homes; if not, they must be spaced 100 ft apart or converted to clean burning fuels. That was the genius behind charcoal-only – the public could enjoy their fires while everyone else breathed easy, without Coastal Commission interference. But now the City has thumbed their nose at the AQMD and they risk fines.

AQMD inspectors were out on the beach Sunday night; they stated the burning was a violation of Rule 444.

Will the City’s actions lead to more violations? Will the AQMD levy fines? The City Council cloaked their decision based on perceived difficulties in getting Coastal Commission approval of a fire pits plan, but in their haste to accommodate one agency it appears they’ve violated another’s rulings.

If the City thought they could make quick-work of the issue, they’ve badly miscalculated.

One proposal offered on the fly during the Council discussions could lead to spreading out the pits. That’s the idea behind 444, spread them out to reduce toxicity. The only problem is that no one wants them moved in front of their home. I’ve heard that the City Clerk lives at the beach at 32nd Street; the rumor went that she wasn’t happy to hear of a fire pit moving in front of her house. Who would like the idea?

I’ve heard first hand from the Dunes – they were recently named as potentially being interested if all of a sudden the City had fire pits that had to be spread out. But now the word is, confirmed from 2 sources, that the Dunes doesn’t want them either. Forget for a minute the toxic impact – who would want the Coastal Commission having additional jurisdiction on your property?

So it’s all well and good when it’s someone else’s problem apparently. We’ve heard from many new-found supporters. This issue has become a fiasco, not the tidy little hatchet job Fieldstead & Co. and his new Council friends thought.

There are two reports, in CoronadelMarToday: Not So Fast! Councilman Says He Did Not Vote on A Permanent Fire Ring Plan and the Daily Pilot: Newport council’s vote on fire rings ignites confusion, saying Councilman Petros maybe wasn’t sure exactly what the motion that he voted for stated. I’d be looking for a way out, too. Will the mayor be next? Will a Motion to Reconsider be forthcoming?

As advocates repeat — the science is on the side of the AQMD and those who want to breathe clean air. If our elected officials were smart they’d abandon this public relations nightmare and step up to do the right thing, committing the City to clean air for all.

There’s an injustice in the City’s plan to bring toxic wood burning back to the beach. The Council can attempt a fight, to split words in the ruling, but on Martin Luther King Day the better course may be to reconsider the public health impact and assure all your beachgoing visitors and residents a healthy experience. It’s a decision they’ll be proud of – it’s time to get on the right side of history as it relates to beach burning.




Posted January 16, 2015 By Frank Peters

There’s some confusion here in Newport Beach – what did the City Council pass? How many fire pits are we talking about?

Follow the controversy:
Not So Fast! Councilman Says He Did Not Vote on A Permanent Fire Ring Plan

Newport council’s vote on fire rings ignites confusion




Posted January 15, 2015 By Frank Peters

It couldn’t wait – it had to be dealt with at the first council meeting of the year.

A Newport Beach City Council with 4 new members was sworn in last month. Three of the new members campaigned on “Bring Back the Fire Rings”. Like catnip for any elected official, wood burning fire pits on the beach is a favorite tradition, many uninformed voters say, so it was the perfect rallying cry during the election cycle.

The public got what it wanted Tuesday night as the City Council voted 5-2 to eliminate the cleaner burning charcoal-only policy. Soon fire pits will be rearranged 100 feet apart as the Air Quality Management Board regulation calls for, or 50 ft as some advocate, then the wood burning will begin again.

Yes, it’s a major setback for those who must breathe the toxic wood smoke. It’s a public health disaster for anyone who even visits the beach, but most beachgoers either don’t know or don’t care about the adverse health effects.

In the Council chambers it was all about fun – health concerns be damned. Of course, many of the speakers at the podium wanted to point out the real reason for the debate – the old red herrings of racism and class warfare were well represented in their remarks. Our opponents pulled out all the stops to bury our plea for clean air.

Wood burning fire pits will return to Big Corona beach

The planned layout for wood burning fire pits at Big Corona – within 700′ of homes they must be spaced 100′ apart. Toxic bonus: 6 pits will be squeezed in at the 700′ boundary

This issue came to life just a few years ago when a previous City Council voted unanimously to remove all 60 beach fire pits. Doing so required Coastal Commission permission and it may be hard to remember back that far, to a more optimistic time, but then Coastal Commissioner and Chair of the AQMD, Dr. William Burke took the issue off the table by referring it to his agency with the ultimate jurisdiction for air quality. But that was then…

Our string of good luck included the first-in-the-nation fire pits regulation and here at the end, that’s all we have – fire pits within 700 feet of resident homes must be spread out 100 ft apart. That’s all we get. As you can see in the map above, City Manager Dave Kiff working with Councilman Scott Peotter came up with a configuration that not only complies with the regulation, but sneaks a few fire pits even closer to nearby homes. There was no need to include any resident input, after all pity poor Newport Beach, caught between the titans of the Coastal Commission and the AQMD – there just wasn’t a way to incorporate any resident input.

As the crowd assembles, minutes before the Council session begins surprise guests arrive – AQMD Chief Scientist, Dr. Fine and general counsel Kurt Wiese — it was like seeing the Calvary come to the rescue, but their presence would not change the outcome.

I had the satisfaction of being the first to the podium to protest this fiasco. PowerPoint slides and some witty commentary focused on the health effects would move no one. Comparisons to cigarette smoking, which ironically, you cannot smoke one on the beach, while equating the fire pits to the secondhand smoke of 800 cigarettes proved easy to ignore. My punchline would be – now that you know, it’s unethical.

According to the AQMD each fire pit is equivalent to the secondhand smoke of 800 cigarettes per minute

According to the AQMD each fire pit is equivalent to
the secondhand smoke of 800 cigarettes per minute

Of course, like any budding political activists we were counting votes – we knew we would lose.

In the days prior, between Barbara and I we had met face to face with 4 council members and spoken on the phone with Mayor Ed Selich. “Focus on the new members,” was his advice, but it turned out to be a deflection. When the final vote was taken we had one new council member breaking ranks in our favor, but Selich voted against us.

We knew the odds were stacked against us, but to lose the Mayor’s vote really stung as he was part of the original unanimous vote.

We had a day to lick our wounds then this morning it’s time for the monthly meeting of the local residents association – Barbara sits on the board. Knowing the Mayor often attends, she was ready to confront him. He mumbled his reasons for voting against public health, saying it would never pass Coastal Commission scrutiny. That’s political expediency and very efficient use of staff time, too, but by abandoning us we’ll never have a hearing with Coastal. Sweeping aside his feeble justifications, Barbara continued her rebuke, “Why did you vote for a plan that defies air quality experts?” That’s unethical.


Speaking of our local residents association, their support for our plight was anemic. Like most cross sections of the community, they didn’t want to hear our health concerns. They want more parking and less traffic congestion. We brought a complaint with moral and ethical challenges, looking for support from our neighbors. We would walk away empty handed.

The Irvine Company is the dominant commercial property developer - they know what their consumers want

The Irvine Company is the dominant local commercial property developer.
They know what their customers want




Posted January 11, 2015 By Frank Peters

Sitting in the audience it was 300 against 5 – we were greatly outnumbered back in July 2013 when the first-in-the-nation beach fire rings regulation was to be voted on.

Never having been through such an unpopular contest, I thought we were doomed in our quest to eliminate wood burning on the beach in front of our home.

We were called racists. Our opponents invoked class-warfare arguments to ridicule our plight. Never mind winning the outcome, how were we ever going to get back to our car safely?

But then the public testimony concluded and the AQMD Board began to summarize. That’s when our hopes were raised as Josie Gonzales, San Bernardino County Supervisor and AQMD Board member scolded the audience.


Her courageous statement swayed the outcome in our favor.

This comes up for me as I anticipate a similarly unpopular debate this Tuesday as the Newport Beach City Council will vote on whether to bring wood burning back. Our opponents have their surveys – 88.8% of residents and visitors favor the toxic wood burning.

Yes, it seems like we’ll be outnumbered again, but only because most people don’t know the facts.




Posted January 3, 2015 By Barbara Peters
Parking lots were filled to capacity despite new fire pit regulations

Beach parking lots were filled to capacity despite critics concerns over new fire pit regulations

It’s the dawn of a new year. Looking back over 2014, I can only shake my head in amazement – we’ve seen the politics of public health up close and personal – the good, the bad, the ugly – often deceitful and even a little bit evil.

Then just when I thought we’d get to breathe clean air — it’s an election year.

2014 began with the worst smoke from beach fire rings we’ve seen in 16 years. January was hot and the winter rains never came. Worse, the wood burners came out in droves, as if to have the last hurrah before the City’s new ordinance for charcoal-only burning in the fire rings took effect in March. It wasn’t just us, a lot of Californians suffered from bad air quality.

Charcoal-only burning seemed reasonable as it burns up to 90% cleaner than wood – it satisfied the AQMD’s regulation and it meant every fire ring could stay. Was it too good to be true?

The City handed out free charcoal

The City handed out free charcoal

The political process kicked off with a January trip to Sacramento to speak at the Assembly Natural Resources Committee; we were in opposition to Assemblyman Travis Allen’s AB-1102. Allen sought to enshrine beach bonfires through legislation, placing a recreational tradition over public health. It was an opportunity to share some of the health consequences from wood smoke exposure in our neighborhood. Air Quality experts were eloquent yet the bill made it out of Committee and passed unanimously through the State Assembly. On to the Senate.

The disappointment in Sacramento was offset January 31st with a favorable court ruling. Superior Court Judge Robert J. Moss denied Friends of the Fire Rings injunction petition by ruling,

The AQMD has presented enough evidence to show that wood burning can be harmful to health and that it had a rational basis to pass the Beach Burn Ban Amendments. When the threat to the health of the public is balanced against some slight inconvenience of not being able to burn wood at certain locations or at certain times… the balance tips in favor of the AQMD.

While we dreamed of smoke-free air, the City of Newport Beach was taking a friendly, educational approach – handing out bags of charcoal and pamphlets designed to educate burners about the cancer-causing chemicals in wood smoke.

Barbara with the Park Patrol's Mike Ferris

Barbara with the Park Patrol’s Mike Ferris

It’s hard to hold your breath when someone’s recreational burning is spewing toxic chemicals into your home, but we patiently observed the impact of public education provided by our very effective Park Patrol.

As outreach gained ground, summer crowds arrived and charcoal fire pits attracted more people than ever. Naysayers be damned – charcoal only was a huge success – people came in record numbers for fun and barbeques and the air was safe to breathe.

Meanwhile, things were heating up in Sacramento. Friends of the Fire Rings had pockets jingling with $60,000 in donations from Fieldstead and Company – the funding entity owned by Howard Ahmanson, Jr., our local fire rings king-pin. He’s a man apparently with other causes, some even less benevolent than promoting toxic wood smoke.

Ignoring the evidence that wood smoke harms all humans, pro-wood burners brought in the NAACP and LULAC to complain that cleaner fuels would keep black people and Hispanics away from the public beach. I guess they missed the California Department of Public Health 2013 report on Asthma in California, that notes: “Blacks have 40% higher asthma prevalence”, and “asthma hospitalization and ED visit rates are higher in Hispanics than Whites, especially among children.” They knew that class-warfare plays well at the polls — we were called racists in Senate hearings. They played to the California Coastal Commission’s public access concerns.

On a brighter note, honorable groups joined forces to oppose AB-1102. The American Lung Association in California, the Coalition for Clean Air, the Sierra Club, and Breathe California wrote to legislators and appeared at hearings to urge a decision in favor of air quality and public health. Noteworthy doctors and scientists from major universities and environmental groups wrote letters pointing out the harm of wood smoke exposure, especially for vulnerable groups such as children and the elderly.

It hurt when the California Coastal Commission sided with wood burners in opposition to cleaner burning charcoal. After the Chair of the California Senate Environmental Quality Committee called Coastal petty, AB1102 was gutted, but not killed. The bill analysis made many compelling points – prompting me to write this letter to the editor of our local paper.

The Coastal Commission doesn't care about the adverse health effects for them it's all about access

The Coastal Commission doesn’t care about the adverse health effects; for them it’s all about access

The bill moved on to the Natural Resources Committee where Coastal’s concerns that somehow cleaner air would diminish public access were considered. We went door to door visiting Senate staff showing photos of how many people live within the 700-foot buffer zone of the regulation. At this point, even Travis Allen and Coastal’s Legislative Liaison were acknowledging that wood smoke exposure is harmful to people’s health. That just wasn’t a good enough reason to stop fighting for control. Seemingly unstoppable; the bill moved on to Appropriations.

Things looked bleak until, in the final moments before the Appropriations Committee hearing, AB-1102 was sent to the Suspense graveyard. We took a deep breath. Could we dare hope for clean air?

As summer wound down, the local election season went into high gear. With four open Newport Beach City Council seats, candidates had lined up on a team platform. There was anger over the new city hall and fees for boat docks. Howard Ahmanson’s Fieldstead and Company kicked in $25,000 to Team Newport’s campaign, and no surprise wood burning fire rings are on the slate.

Newport’s former Mayor Keith Curry was in a heated contest for Assembly District 74. Guess what became a campaign issue? Any wonder who donated large sums to the candidate who vowed to save the fire rings?

Team Newport swept into office and as new council members took their seat, 2014 came to a close with an agenda item for January – bringing back wood burning to the beach.

As the year winds to a close we make the local Los Angeles Times neighborhood paper’s The 2014 DP 103 Newsworthy and Notable; we place at number 63. The recognition lends credibility and helps raise local awareness of how harmful wood smoke is to human health.

Wall to wall pop-ups

Surprisingly, the charcoal-only regulations lured huge crowds to the fire rings




Posted December 18, 2014 By Frank Peters

Fun for your eyes, bad for your lungs

Fun for the eyes,
bad for your lungs

Newport Police just announced another night of fireworks to coincide with the end of the annual Boat Parade.

This is a new development, bookending the beloved Boat Parade with fireworks, so it’s a little Scrooge-like to raise issues of air quality.

But wintertime fireworks are a hazard. The AQMD declares occasional No Burn Days during winter months because of inversions. The weather patterns of winter mean that woodsmoke, soot and fireworks debris stay close the the ground where it affects nearby residents.

Fireworks are already an air quality nightmare, even on the Fourth of July when winds blow the remnants away. Smoke from fireworks, according to the State of Washington’s Department of Ecology,

Puts us all at risk from breathing in tiny, harmful fine particles made up of soot, dust, metals, and unburned fuel

Promoters of the Boat Parade either aren’t aware of the hazards or discount the serious health effects:

  • Risk of heart attack and stroke.
  • Lung inflammation.
  • Reduced lung function.
  • Asthma-like symptoms.
  • Asthma attacks.

All made worse by the wintertime inversion.

Like the beach bonfires, these fireworks displays are another example of someone’s fun at the expense of a neighbor’s health.

Instead, let’s enjoy happy and healthy holiday events.

No more fireworks, please.




Posted December 18, 2014 By Frank Peters

Sacramento has placed in the Top 10 for the worst air quality in the nation; see how woodsmoke contributes to the related adverse health affects.




Posted November 22, 2014 By Barbara Peters
The AQMD's air monitors at Big Corona Beach

On the roof: the AQMD’s air quality monitors at Big Corona Beach

You don’t have to travel far from Newport Beach to find people focused on the future of air quality — we travelled to AQMD Headquarters yesterday where we saw a glimpse of monitoring’s exciting future.

Neither Los Angeles nor Orange County meet regulated thresholds for ozone and particulate matter, and that’s a challenge, but it’s only a part of the driving forces at work with emerging technology that some see as a game-changer.

New technology will empower individuals and increase public awareness like never before.

Gathering long term air quality data — these monitors look expensive

Gathering long term air quality data — these monitors are expensive

Picture a future when we’ll make decisions based on personal air quality monitoring.

  • Parents could choose schools based on air quality.
  • People might decide where to live by checking their personal air toxics sensor.
  • Athletes could avoid areas with bad local toxics
  • Politicians would have nowhere to hide when it comes to air quality concerns
  • Take the family out for a wood-fired pizza? Maybe not if the sensor picks up wood smoke air toxics.


What if you could wear an air quality monitor? Or strap one to your bike?

Meet TZOA, a wearable monitor currently funding on Kickstarter

The California Air Pollution Control Officers Association recently brought together regional air quality regulators, public health experts, university researchers, EPA environmental experts, data gurus, and business and community members to look at next generation air quality measuring. Their seminar, “My Air Quality: Using Sensors to Know What’s in Your Air,” attracted a crowd.

HabitatMap’s Michael Heimbinder presented his company’s mapping tools for environmental tracking

With all that energy in the room, who wouldn’t believe we’re on the verge of a new age of air quality awareness. Are you breathing Air Toxics (particulate matter, benzene and lead) or Climate Forcers (carbon dioxide, methane, black carbon)? Just ask your personal air quality sensor.


What if your smart phone was also an air quality monitor?

Sensor technology that can measure what you’re breathing is exploding. Will Google Glass have an influence? The marketplace is eagerly responding to a need to know what’s in the air. Air Quality agencies now offer an impressive collaboration to guide the public’s understanding of reliability, data interpretation, and best use of new technology.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District is leading the way with a new Sensor Testing Center, AQ–SPEC. Someday soon you may be able to borrow an air quality sensor from their lending library of personal monitoring equipment. They plan to test emerging technology and assist consumers with choosing sensors and interpreting data.

Back in Newport Beach a few foolish politicians still believe they can dismiss air quality concerns from beach bonfires. They don’t realize the future will be leaving them behind — it’s inevitable. Kids in elementary school will have an app. Parents in Huntington Beach will realize that their kids are breathing air toxics at the public beach. Athletes will demand smoke-free air. Breathers will be empowered.

Welcome to the dawn of a new age of air quality awareness.




Posted September 20, 2014 By Frank Peters

Must be a forest fire

Must be a forest fire

Some places have cleaner air than others

Some places have cleaner air than others

I’ve got a new favorite app — Smoggy.

Like a weather app, you add cities to track their Air Quality Index.

Why do I enjoy knowing these statistics?

I fantasize about living somewhere with clean air. Smoggy shows how my favorite places are doing each day.

Conditions vary widely in some places and not at all in others.

I emailed Welikesmall‘s Paul Solomon with my wish-list:

I wish Smoggy had an interactive feature. If you tracked Portland, OR, for example, you’d wonder why their meter seems stuck on 50. I’d make needling comments to everyone else who follows PDX and the next thing ya know, we’re affecting change.

California's always well represented on this list

California’s always well represented on this list

Paul didn’t make any promises, but he did hint about a next release. Turns out, besides his interests in clean air, he’s also a big bicycle rider; something else we have in common.

- — — -

I often check Smoggy late at night, after a long day burning fossil fuels — that’s when I find the highest ratings. There’s a list of Worst Cities in the U.S. and a list of Best Cities, too, but that list varies widely most days.

Bottom line? As many of us already know, there’s almost nowhere on earth where you can find clean air.