When I decided to run for elected office, not even in my wildest imagination did I think I would be fighting to save our beach bonfires. A beach bonfire is a California tradition that is integral to our way of life. For generations beach bonfires have provided Californians with a safe and inexpensive economic activity for our families. Unfortunately, due to a few wealthy property owners in Newport Beach, we all must now band together to fight and save our beloved pastime of enjoying a bonfire on the beach.
Last week, the unelected bureaucrats at the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) voted 7 to 6 to institute regulations that will result in many of our beach bonfire rings being removed. These regulations are neither needed nor supported by the community. Yet, despite overwhelming opposition, SCAQMD ignored the will of the people and passed regulations to remove beach bonfire rings.
So how did we get here? For many years a few wealthy homeowners in Corona Del Mar, a neighborhood in Newport Beach, have been complaining about the public parking in their community to access Corona Del Mar beach. As a result, they convinced the city council to vote to remove the fire rings that draws the public to the beach. The city then went to the California Coastal Commission and asked for permission to remove the fire rings. Fortunately, the Coastal Commission promptly denied their request.
Upon denial, the property owners turned to SCAQMD, charging that beach bonfires cause air pollution and that the SCAQMD must regulate them. Unlike the Coastal Commission, the SCAQMD decided to side with the special interests that want the fire rings removed.
Despite this setback, I am proud to see how our community has vocalized their support of this non-partisan issue. Local California residents have voiced their near universal support of beach bonfires. Senator Lou Correa, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson, Huntington Beach Mayor Connie Boardman, and many other elected officials, cities and organizations have spoken out in opposition to this initiative. The fire ring ban has attracted local, statewide and national media coverage. Along with over 60 co-authors, I authored Assembly Concurrent Resolution (ACR) 52 supporting beach bonfires in fire rings, which was unanimously passed by the California Legislature. Additionally, thousands of Californians attended multiple community bonfire rallies that I hosted to draw further attention to the issue.
The South Coast AQMD has clearly overstepped its bounds. This is a case of unelected bureaucrats ignoring the voice of the people. The SCAQMD voted to ban certain beach bonfires to appease a small group of wealthy landowners at the expense of all Californians. Regardless of the outpouring of support from thousands of Californians, countless elected officials, and local cities and businesses, they still moved forward with their decision.
Making matters worse, the SCAQMD has refused to provide the public with basic transparency in their decision making process. Along with Senator Mimi Walters, Assemblymen Allan Mansoor and Assemblyman Curt Hagman, I submitted a California Public Records Act Request letter on June 5th regarding the methodology of the SCAQMD’s highly questionable air quality test. To date, we still have not received a response.
Additionally, on April 8th the Voice of OC, an Orange County online news agency, requested the email correspondence between SCAQMD board members and staff regarding this issue. The SCAQMD has stonewalled for over three months and they still have not released any of the relevant public information.
One thing is clear, the SCAQMD decision was based on inconclusive data that claimed that beach bonfires pose a health risk and they are purposefully ignoring the California Public Records Act in order to hide the information they used in the decision making process.
The decision made Friday directly challenged the recommendations of the California Coastal Commission and unilaterally bans certain fire rings. The verdict also overlooks the Resolution unanimously passed by the California Legislature which officially calls for protecting our state beaches and the timeless community pastime of beach bonfires for all Californians.
This is not about particulate matter nor is it about dirty air at the beach. What this is about is a small group of landowners that don’t want the public to access their beaches and seven unelected officials succumbing to these special interests. The issue here is unelected bureaucrats trying to regulate a cultural and historic tradition enjoyed by people from our local community and visitors from all around the world.
As Californians we can do better. I am currently already working with other legislators to author bipartisan legislation that would stop the SCAQMD’s bonfire ban. Together, we can overturn this misguided attack on our fire rings and restore this safe and inexpensive family activity on our state beaches.
How they Voted:
Voted to ban bonfires:
William Burke – Speaker of the Assembly Appointee
Clark Parker – Senate Rules Committee Appointee
Joseph Lyou – Governor’s Appointee
Judith Mitchell – Mayor Pro Tem, City of Rolling Hills Estates
Dennis Yates – Mayor, City of Chino Hills
Michael Cacciotti – Councilmember, City of South Pasadena
Josie Gonzales – Supervisor, County of San Bernardino
Voted to Protect Beach Bonfires:
John Benoit – Supervisor, County of Riverside
Ben Benoit – Councilmember, City of Wildomar
Miguel Pulido – Mayor, City of Santa Ana
Jan Perry – Councilmember, City of Los Angeles
Michael Antonovich – Supervisor, County of Los Angeles
Shawn Nelson – Supervisor, County of Orange