NO ENFORCEMENT

Posted February 17, 2015 By Frank Peters
Inconsiderate or Illiterate?

Inconsiderate or illiterate?

The charcoal-only fire pits at Big Corona are located closest to the parking lot. Many bonfire enthusiasts are choosing proximity to their cars and ignoring the fuel restrictions.

Unfortunately, these same fire pits are the ones closest to nearby homes, so residents are getting smoked-out worse than before this interim plan was implemented.

 

   

BURNING LOVE

Posted February 16, 2015 By Frank Peters
One of 7 Valentines fires on the beach

Ring-free — one of 7 Valentines fires on the sand at Big Corona beach

How did you celebrate Valentines Day?

We walked to the movies to meet friends while others came to the beach to celebrate over a polluting bonfire. We converged around 10 o’clock.

The first thing we noticed were the fires spread down the beach, well beyond the 25 fire rings. Fire lovers were “Going rogue”, lighting up wherever the spirit moved them. We counted 5 fires on the sand.

Counting is one thing, trying to describe what’s going on to the Newport Beach Police Department Dispatch is something else. The police arrived quickly and closed the beach, but we were concerned about the remaining fires, some still burning outside the fire rings area. In the dark someone could get seriously burned. After listening patiently, Dispatch sent 2 police cars to check out the bootleg fires.

I was up early the next morning to photograph the fire remnants then we called Park Patrol. In 20 minutes they’re down at the beach to check things out.

By the time I catch up, Officer Ferris tells me how he found 2 fires outside the fire rings that were covered in sand, still burning. He thought the photos I was handing him were the same fires and it took me a minute to realize we weren’t exactly talking about the same occurrence. When I pointed far down the beach to the fires we had seen he began to understand. He parked his truck and we trudged across the sand.

None of the fires were still burning, so we grabbed the dirty, half-burned wood and tossed them in the trash.

He couldn’t remember when he’d seen so many fires on the sand. Neither could I.

A coincidence? It's rare to have a fire on the sand, so having 7 in one night seems organized, not random.

A coincidence? It’s rare to have a fire on the sand, so having 7 in one night seems organized, not random.

 

   

BAD AIR WEEK

Posted February 5, 2015 By Frank Peters
Quite colorful

A colorful air quality map shows major Unhealthy conditions

get the Smoggy app

get the Smoggy app

I couldn’t go with my wife for the morning walk – the air is too poisonous. She came back to report,

Lenny’s burning again.

On a NO BURN DAY no less, but our neighbor Lenny doesn’t know. When I’ve spoken to him in the past he’ll tell me how he has 4 wood burning chimineas. He loves burning wood.

Seems that almost no one knows.

We’re lucky that our local neighborhood news site broadcasts all the NO BURN DAY announcements — 4 so far this week — but people don’t seem to understand how bad the air pollution is.

Since people don’t know, they don’t take precautions. I see them out jogging as usual.

Today the Newport Beach Police Department issued a fog advisory alert. Long-term followers of this site will remember that fog can act like your inhaler, turning the particulate into an aerosol, sending more particulate matter into your lungs. Yes, a real bonus feature – unhealthy AQI plus fog.

In the Bay Area, when Spare the Air Days occur people are encouraged to take public transportation, to stay out of their cars, to postpone a trip, to do something to mitigate the conditions. Not so here in L.A. and Orange County. It’s “Carry on about your business,” or so it seems, which has me wondering…

How bad does our air have to get before serious changes must take place? Are there any such thresholds? Even I don’t know.

 

   

UNSPORTSMANLIKE CONDUCT

Posted February 1, 2015 By Barbara Peters
Don't expect enforcement to keep assure compliance

That’s not charcoal! Don’t expect enforcement to assure compliance.

A good example of the fallacy of enforcement - pallets have been restricted for years, yet they end up in smoke regurlarly

A good example of the fallacy of enforcement – pallets have been restricted for years, yet they end up in smoke regurlarly

Ok, green means charcoal – that’s a new concept for beachgoers, but that’s not charcoal! Looks like enforcement has failed again. It’s unrealistic to have some fire rings labeled “Charcoal Only”.

They look pretty painted green, but what’s the use when newly elected Council Members don’t even obey those pesky rules set forth in the City Charter.

Last night people brought pallets to burn even though pallets have been restricted for years. There are many good reasons for this rule – pallets contain even more nasty chemicals than wood, such as the toxic fumigant methyl bromide, flame retardants like tribromophenol, formaldehyde – a known carcinogen – as well as rusty nails and paint.

The placement of the fire rings may comply with AQMD rules, but what’s being burned does not.

Let’s cry “Foul!” – it’s unsportsmanlike conduct.

 

   

JUST DOING MY JOB

Posted January 26, 2015 By Frank Peters
The previously moved 50' apart fire rings are moved again to be 100' apart

The previously moved 50′ apart fire rings are moved again to be 100′ apart

It must be part of the City’s employee manual,

When confronted by upset residents, introduce yourself and tell them you’re just doing your job.

Because that’s what I got when I confronted the crew moving the fire rings on the beach this morning.

Long-term followers of this pathetic saga will recall that the City hoped to take advantage of vague terminology in Rule 444 such that the fire pits could be only 50′ apart. But someone caved and it wasn’t the AQMD — the previously moved 50′ apart pits are right now being moved 100′ apart.

As a result, several fire pits are now 100′ closer to nearby residents. I keep telling myself that’s just how the configuration goes; surely it wouldn’t be payback for the whistleblowers, a bit of revenge on the part of Team Newport. I try not to be paranoid, but the question lingers.

It’s hard not to be upset when you know that a single wood burning fire pit in front of your home can poison you, your family and your neighbors.

That’s what I said to the 2 City staff who were assured enough to come over and shake my hand. In response they told me, “We’re just doing our job.”

“You’ve heard that same line used in literature,” I argued. “That’s what soldiers say.”

“I have a movie recommendation for you. Go see ‘Selma’.” They nodded, thinking they were off the hook.

“There are certain days in your career when you’re faced with moral and ethical challenges. This is one of those days.”

They walked away, but not before shaking my hand again.

Some of the fire rings are moved a lot closer to nearby residents. Is this pay-back or just how to make them all fit?

Some of the fire rings are moved a lot closer to nearby residents.
Is this payback, a little revenge on the whistleblowers?

 

   

APPEALS EXHAUSTED

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

 

   

WEEKEND WRAP UP

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.

air-alert

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.

 

   

FUMBLE!

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

 

   

DIRTY POLITICS: NEW COUNCIL BRINGS BACK WOOD BURNING

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.

cdmra

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

 

   

FEELING OUTNUMBERED?

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.

popularity

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.