A bonfire battle has ignited on the West Coast.
According to one Republican legislator, a handful of wealthy Californians are trying to take away the right of families to enjoy one of the simple pleasures of the beach at night: sitting around a fire and roasting marshmallows.
But the beaches belong to everyone, Assemblyman Travis Allen said.
The debate first heated up in 2013. Allen said that just three weeks after he was elected to the California legislature, his chief of staff ran into his office and announced a confusing development.
“You’ll never believe this, they’re trying to ban beach bonfires.”
Allen said he was shocked: Evening bonfires are a staple of beach life and a long-standing tradition in California. There are even designated rings on the beach for people to partake safely.
“It turned out there was a tiny neighborhood in Newport Beach, it’s gorgeous … multimillion-dollar homes … but right below that is a public beach,” Allen said. “And for about two decades or more some residents in that neighborhood … basically they didn’t want outsiders using their beach.”
Allen said that at first, residents tried keeping the unwanted crowds away by pursuing noise complaints and other tactics. They finally settled on attacking the bonfires, the one thing that could keep the “outsiders” warm enough to enjoy the beach at night, he said.
“Their real agenda is pretty clear, they want foreigners off their beach,” Allen said. “It seemed like the stupidest thing a government could do.”
So he decided to take on the fight to save a family tradition. While it may seem like small potatoes compared to the life-and-death fires raging around the world in places like Israel, Ukraine and Iraq, as Allen said, it’s about families, and that makes it important.
“The California Coastal Commission stepped in and said beach bonfires are an inexpensive family recreation for which there is no substitute,” he said, which saved the fires for a while. But that didn’t stop the determined residents who wanted to kick the strangers off their beach.
That’s when, Allen said, they pulled the bad-for-the-environment card.
“They changed their tactics, and went to the South Coast Air Quality Management district and said beach bonfires cause air pollution,’’ Allen said, with a heavy scoff. “There is absolutely no basis to this claim, the cleanest air in California is at the beaches.”
Still, there is the argument that when people put things in the fires that don’t burn well, like trash, beer cans, or even the wrong kind of wood, it can produce unhealthy particulates.
In December, the Newport Beach City Council voted 6-0 to remove 33 of 60 rings on their beaches, and city staff members recommended requiring beachgoers to burn only natural firewood or low-smoke logs in the remaining traditional rings and enforce that requirement with warnings and fines of up to $500, according to the Orange County Register.
But the decision infuriated residents who aren’t lucky enough to own a beachfront home.
“By not enacting a common-sense interim solution – spreading out the fire rings and/or mixing use of wood and charcoal, the city will cleverly achieve it’s real agenda – reducing attendance at the beach from ‘outsiders,’” the website Save the Fire Rings states.
Allen agrees with the frustrated residents. He co-sponsored a bill set to go before the California legislature Thursday which would still meet the environmental concerns raised by Newport Beach, but would prevent the city from moving or removing the fire pits without approval from the California Coastal Commission.
That’s a lot of political maneuvering to save a family past time. But Allen insists it’s worth it.
“This is absolutely huge … everybody knows you should be able to enjoy a beach bonfire regardless of how much money you make or where you live,” he said.
Allen urged residents to call the California Senate Appropriations Staff to voice their opinions on the issue as soon as possible. One survey completed in June showed that 89.7 percent of Newport Beach residents said they believe “that the city council should leave the fire rings alone.”
What do you think? Watch TheBlaze’s interview with Allen here, then tell us what you think.
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