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Newport Resends Fire Ring Application to Coastal Commission

In a resubmitted packet to the California Coastal Commission, the city of Newport Beach responds to questions surrounding its request to extinguish the city's 60 beach fire pits.

In a response packet to the California Coastal Commission this month, the city of Newport Beach detailed its reasons for wanting to get rid of the 60 beach-side fire rings, according to a city document.

The fire rings, which include 27 at Big Corona Beach and 33 near the Balboa Pier, date back to the 1940s and have been a in the city for a few years. The City Council voted unanimously to remove the fire rings in March, fand in May sent its application to the Coastal Commission to have the fire rings removed. In June the commission responded to the city, saying the application was incomplete and more information was needed before it could be processed.

Inquiries by the commission included finding out if an air quality study to support removal of the fire rings was conducted, requesting clarification regarding which alternatives to the fire ring removal have been explored and to determine what type of authority the city has to remove the fire rings.

The entire resubmitted application to the Coastal Commission was 139 pages, and included a five page response. Brenda Wisneski, the city's deputy community development director, said in the response an air quality study was not feasible, explained the alternatives would not fully eliminate the fire rings hazards and detailed the city's agreement with the California State Parks.

"Air quality consultants that were contacted indicated that a scientific study would not provide a definitive answer with respect to the source of the wood burning smoke as the particulate matters are the same, be it private or public," Wisneski wrote.

She added alternatives like limiting the hours for fire ring use and acceptable burning materials would be difficult to enforce, while installing natural gas fire logs create a hazard and would be dangerous if not properly monitored.

According to staff reports, the 60 fire rings are mostly used by residents and visitors between Memorial Day and Labor Day and present health impacts to residents who live nearby, pose fire threats and safety threats to beachgoers and residents who are subjected to hot ash from the fire rings when they are not doused.

In the letter to the Coastal Commission, the city said it would like to see the areas occupied by the fire pits be transformed into areas for volleyball courts, open areas with children's equipment or an open beach area.

"These areas are greatly served by the adjacent parking areas and could be used by beachgoers during all hours of the day for a variety of uses rather than a single, set use," Wisneksi said.

Following the council's vote to extinguish the fire rings, resident David Ruiz created an online petition urging fire ring supporters to send in written appeals and phone calls to the Coastal Commission. So far more than 5,000 people have voiced their support for the fire rings.

"I am an owner here at Oceanfront and enjoy the fire pits that are literally outside my home," resident Colleen Kearfott wrote on the petition. "I have lived here for over three years and do not have one complaint to make. I also have two young children and do not fear for their safety."

Dozens of residents on both sides of the issue have also voiced their opinions on the Save the Big Corona Fire Pits! Facebook page. 

Up next for the fire ring issue is a public hearing with the Coastal Commission. City spokeswoman Mary Locey says the date will be set once the fire ring application is deemed complete.

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