In Newport Beach last night a divided Parks, Beaches and Recreation Commission voted to recommend to the City Council the removal of all beach fire rings.
It was a raucous session with several residents interrupting Commissioner Roy Englebrecht at one point as he proposed converting the wood burning fire rings to natural gas; the clean burning fuel would remove a major concern of the residents: the airborne carcinogens in the smoke. Trying a different tact, Commissioner Anderson implied that without a full scientific inquiry, the residents’ complaints of ash sticking to their patio furniture might prove to be the rubber from tire wear, as an investigation of the area surrounding the John Wayne airport apparently once found. These subterfuges would not deter the majority of the Commission members who voted 4 to 3 to send their recommendation to the City Council: complete removal of the fire rings.
The Council chambers were filled to capacity last night, but not everyone was there to challenge the fire rings. After a lengthy tribute to Harbor Day’s flag football team, the Commission settled in for the main event. Staff prepared a well-balanced report that included many letters for and against with links to online articles about the health dangers of wood smoke. PB&R Department head, Laura Detweiler, spelled out the options for the Commissioners — everything from partial or complete removal of the rings to maintaining the status quo.
Then it was time for public input. One after the other, affected residents stepped to the podium, but where were the fire rings advocates? Not one person came forward to advocate for keeping the rings. That would be left to the Commissioners. The commentary was so completely anti-rings, at least I was thinking the Commissioners would be unanimously moved. That was not the case though as Englebrecht repeatedly fought to save the rings for all the memories beach-goers made; he spent much of his arguments doing the math, adding up to a million dollars of lost parking revenue over the next 4 years, according to him, if the rings are removed. No one was buying this argument; it was a clear case of inequity: the true cost of the health damage to the nearby residents can’t be calculated except by them and their families as they grapple with the health affects. For example, one resident, Wes Hatfield, spoke of the possible coincidence — neighbors on his left, on his right and two doors away were all dealing with varying degrees of lung cancer.
Every Commissioner had some comment to contribute to the discussion, all except Marie Marston; her only contribution to the evening was her nay vote. But the pleadings of the residents prevailed.
The issue moves next to the City Council.