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City of Newport Beach Proposes Plan to Improve Air Quality, Protect Health and Keep Fire Rings
Newport Beach press release
The City of Newport Beach (City) released a proposed plan today for fire rings at two beaches in the community (the Balboa Pier area and Corona del Mar State Park or “Big Corona”). The plan is in response to an action taken in July 2013 by the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) that applies new limits on open burning at the beach, in large part to attempt to address the health impacts of wood smoke.

AQMD’s findings, generated from air quality samples taken near Newport Beach’s current fire rings, included:

•Wood smoke’s particulate matter emission is primarily in the <2.5 micron (fine particles) size range (PM2.5).
•Wood smoke is a source of several hazardous air pollutants (HAPs).
•One fire ring’s PM2.5 emission rate is equal to three, 2013 fleet average diesel trucks or the second hand smoke from 800 cigarettes.
•30 fire rings’ PM2.5 emission rate is equal to “an average large south coast refinery.”
•Fire ring wood smoke impacts beach areas and extends into communities.
•One-hour average PM2.5 concentrations can exceed public health guidance levels.
In May 2012, the Newport Beach City Council voted to ask the California Coastal Commission for permission to remove all 60 wood-burning fire rings within the city limits, citing health concerns related to wood smoke. The Commission postponed acting on the City’s request. Later, the AQMD adopted an amended rule (Rule 444) about beach burning.

The City’s proposed plan will be considered by the City Council on November 26. If approved, the plan would:

1.Add additional spacing between 27 of the existing wood-fueled fire rings, including 12 at Big Corona and 15 at the Balboa Pier area. This would distance the rings approximately 50’ or more from each other. Thirty-three (33) wood-fueled rings would be removed (15 from Big Corona and 18 from the Balboa Pier area).
2.Limit the material that could be burned in these rings to natural firewood or low-smoke burning logs, both of which may be sold to beachgoers at City beaches near the fire rings.
3.State the City’s interest in working with the AQMD on an alternative-fueled fire ring demonstration project, which may include (Phase I):
a. Additional single ADA-accessible rings (3) at the Balboa Pier area (ADA = Americans with Disabilities Act) and
b. Two large ADA-accessible “group bonfire” rings accommodating up to 20-25 people per ring, also at the Balboa Pier area and
c. If the Balboa Pier area demonstration is successful, a Phase II that would include two large ADA-accessible group bonfire rings at Big Coron and three single ADA-accessible rings at Big Corona.
d. If both the Balboa Pier and Big Corona phases of the demonstration project are safe, successful, and desired by the community, there would be a one-for-one, gradual transition of the remaining wood-fueled rings for alternative-fueled rings (Phase III, if applicable).
4.Allow for additional education, supervision and enforcement of the appropriate use of both the wood-fueled rings and the alternative-fuel rings.
The City believes that this plan, if adopted by the Council on November 26 and if approved by regulatory agencies like the Coastal Commission, has these benefits:

•Cuts the volume of wood smoke produced by the rings by at least half.
•Further improves air quality by limiting what can be burned in wood-fueled rings.
•Retains the tradition of the rings at the Balboa Pier and Big Corona.
•Responds to AQMD’s health impact studies and follows the District’s recommendations for spacing requirements.
•Allows for new beach amenities such as group bonfire rings and ADA-accessible rings that are not in place today.
•Provides a strong opportunity for an alternative-fuel demonstration project that will determine if fire rings fueled by natural gas are safe, effective, and enjoyable.
Mayor Keith Curry said, “This plan balances the very real health concerns we have seen from AQMD’s own data with the community’s desires to retain a cherished beach tradition. I think this plan, which includes wood-fueled rings and natural gas rings, gives the public a great choice when they come to our beaches. It is likely to cut harmful emissions significantly, while still allowing fire rings to continue in Newport Beach.”

The Newport Beach City Council will consider this plan at its evening meeting on Tuesday, November 26. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. and can be viewed in person at 100 Civic Center Drive, Newport Beach, 92660 or through the City’s website. Please click here to access the City web page where you can download the Council's meeting agenda and the Fire Rings staff report or to view the meeting Tuesday evening.