Republicans, Democrats unite in bid to
save California beach bonfires
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[January 28, 2014]
By Sharon Bernstein
SACRAMENTO, California (Reuters) — It may
be January, but Southern California beachgoers could be forgiven for
breaking out the marshmallows early, as lawmakers moved to protect a
classic rite of summer — the seaside bonfire.
Under a new anti-pollution measure adopted last year by regulators
in charge of air quality for Los Angeles and Orange Counties, fire
rings on beaches near houses or in places where air quality was low
would have to be removed.
The measure prompted outrage from across the political spectrum in
the coastal state, with Republicans railing that unelected
bureaucrats were destroying the California way of life.
Likewise, some Democrats complained that removing the fire rings
would eliminate an inexpensive and beloved summer ritual for people
who can't afford to live in expensive beachfront communities.
Freshman Republican assemblyman Travis Allen, a surfer whose
district south of Los Angeles includes several beach communities,
took on the issue as one of his first efforts.
His bill, which gives the California Coastal Commission authority
over fire pits, passed on Monday in the state Assembly on a vote of
One of the few Republican-backed measures to make it through either
house of the Democratic-controlled legislature this session, the
bill will now go to the state senate, where supporters say they also
expect it to pass.
"Everybody loves a beach bonfire," Allen said in an interview at his
Capitol office. "It's a safe, fun activity."
Last July, the South Coast Air Quality Management District ruled
that beach bonfires send harmful particulates into the air and
should be removed if they are within 700 feet of homes.
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The agency also said that the pits should be removed from beaches
that measure poorly on its air quality index.
"One fire pit in the evening emits as much fine particulate
pollution as one big-rig diesel truck driven 564 miles," the agency
said in a report announcing the new rules.
But Allen contends the move to ban some bonfires grew out of efforts
by wealthy residents in Newport Beach to make the beach near their
homes less attractive to partygoers, rather than a genuine concern
for the environment.
"This is a beach access issue, masquerading as an air pollution
issue," Allen said.
In California, state law is clear that the beaches are public
property, and lawmakers tend to err on the side of protecting the
rights of all residents to go enjoy the coastline, he said.
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; editing by Cynthia Johnston and Ken
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