Proposed fire pits ban and public access
Beach bonfires are part of California’s charm.
By JOSE SOLORIO / Published by the O.C. Register (Reprinted here with Mr. Solorio’s permission)
This summer, the South Coast Air Quality Management District is set to consider a proposal to ban Southern California’s long-standing beach fire pits, which have been bringing locals and tourists from all walks of life together to enjoy our beautiful beaches under the majestic night sky for more than 60 years.
SCAQMD has positioned this proposed ban narrowly as an air quality issue, leaning on a rushed, incomplete set of scientific findings released several weeks ago, which the organization didn’t even begin collecting until after the ban had been proposed.
But make no mistake – this debate isn’t just about air quality, or even just about fire pits.
What’s really at stake in this discussion is a much bigger question of public resource access, which has been underneath the surface of these kinds of issues for as long as we have been here.
Public access to our beaches is an idea that is inextricably woven into the very fabric of California’s identity. I know I’m not alone when I say I strongly believe that any effort to limit that access, or prevent certain classes of people from enjoying our beaches, is an affront to this age-old agreement that the beach belongs to all of us.
Unfortunately, it seems this proposed fire pits ban is yet another one of these misguided efforts.
SCAQMD initially proposed their region-wide ban a few months ago in the wake of a Newport Beach City Council vote to get rid of that city’s own fire pits at the behest of a select few residents.
But the fact is that many of the people who benefit most from the public fire pits are those who don’t live right on the beach and rely on the pits as an affordable way to enjoy the beach in the evening with their families.
Despite owning substantial stake in the outcome of this issue, the residents of more inland neighborhoods and cities – who depend on affordable access to the beach more than anyone – have been an afterthought in the fire pits discussion and barely included at all.
This reality raises several simple, yet crucial questions: to whom do our beaches really belong? Should they be owned and governed exclusively by those of us who happen to own beach-front property? Should decisions about what is allowed at the beach and what isn’t be reserved only for the well-connected few with friends at public regulatory agencies to do their bidding?
I strongly oppose banning Southern California’s beach fire pits because I believe the answer to these questions is “no.”
I am a strong supporter of smart, effective and science-based efforts to clean our air, improve public health and beautify our environment. But this ban appears to be none of those things.
Consider the abrupt and seemingly arbitrary nature of SCAQMD’s proposal – there isn’t a single mention of beach fire pits in the agency’s bi-annual master plan, the latest version of which was released just a few months ago. Yet now, all of a sudden, banning them is a priority.
Even worse is the fact that only after SCAQMD proposed the ban – and after Southern Californians stood up against them en masse – did they even begin collecting scientific data to support their predetermined course of action.
This clearly reflects a backward and outright condemnable regulatory process, but it also raises one more question about the fire pits that is much more troubling: If scientific data didn’t motivate the initial proposal of this ban, what did?
I don’t claim to fully know exactly why this ban was proposed in the first place – it seems only a select few Newport Beach residents and SCAQMD officials ever truly will.
But one thing is clear: for the benefit of protecting the age-old California tradition of beach access for all – regardless of class, color or creed – it’s time for SCAQMD to end this suspiciously conceived and foul-smelling regulatory effort, and get back to the business of cleaning our region’s air.
Jose Solorio is a member of the Rancho Santiago Community College Board of Trustees (representing residents in the cities of Anaheim, Garden Grove, Irvine, Orange, Santa Ana, Tustin, and Villa Park) and a former member of the California State Assembly. To contact Community College Trustee Solorio via e-mail, please click here or you may reach him by mail at P.O. Box 26063, Santa Ana, CA 92799