Concerns about the city's beach-side fire rings flared up at Tuesday night's Parks, Beaches and Recreation Commission meeting.
Several residents spoke against the 60 city-owned fire rings -- which include 27 at Big Corona Beach and 33 near the Balboa Pier-- while two commissioners suggested looking at ways to keep them in place. After a long debate, the commission voted 4-3 to ask the City Council to ban the rings and have them removed.
Resident Barbara Peters was one of many residents who spoke at the meeting and said studies show that short term exposure to this type of smoke can aggravate lung disease, acute bronchitis and asthma.
“The wood smoke is bad enough," Peters said. "We see people throw painted and lacquered furniture into the fires along with pallets, plastic, and anything on hand.
"When you consider the tradeoff between recreational use versus a public health threat, it should be an easy decision.”
Commissioner Roy Englebrecht -- who voted no along with Commissioners Tom Anderson and Marie Marston -- said a ban on the fire rings would cost the city money in parking revenue and business and suggested city staff look at cleaner methods, including converting all of the fire rings into natural gas pits.
“There are thousands upon thousands of families who come to Big Corona Beach each year and for them, this may be their only camp fire experience," he said. "A trip to the fire rings is about memories; family memories, church memories, school memories, dating memories, work place memories, club memories. We must find a way to find a solution to the fire rings that we can stay in the memory business."
Resident Frank Peters agreed the fire rings brought about memories of when he would organize Boy Scout gatherings, but said they aren't worth the health risk.
“I now look at what I have learned from the dangers of wood smoke, and understand that an evening of pleasure with the Boy Scouts or any group down there at the beach comes with too high of price for the residents and my fellow citizens," he said.
While the commission heard from many residents who want to see the fire rings banned, Anderson referenced the Save the Big Corona Fire Pits! Facebook page that has more than 1,800 fans.
"While I feel that it appears well represented tonight, I think there is another side of the point that should be heard," he said.
In the end, the majority commission members shared the sentiment of Commissioner Jack Tingly who said: "I think we need to look forward, the past has been great, and I think a change is needed."
At the meeting, Laura Detweiler, the city's recreation and senior services director, said the rings carry at least a 60-year history and are about 330 feet away from homes.
The City Council will take up further discussions on the fire rings at a future meeting.