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San Diego council seeks to snuff out some beach bonfires

My parents came to town last week which meant I was able to do some touristy things in San Diego which meant I stayed at a hotel in Pacific Beach over the weekend. From my vantage point on the sixth floor, I saw the soft flicker of bonfires on the beach burning deep into the night.

I couldn’t confirm if these were built directly on the sand or in a raised fire pit, the latter of which are presumably legal under San Diego city code. This time last year, lifeguards were extinguishing flames on beach fires no matter what contained them.

Lifeguards told me last May that due to an unprecedented number of beachgoers eager for outdoor entertainment during COVID-19, there have been too many incidents where irresponsible beach light builders buried their flames under the sand, keeping the embers and ashes cooking below like a burning madman. – trap for an unsuspecting person to cross.

The city’s municipal code states that beach fires are permitted in city-provided fire containers. There are 150 of these permanent concrete fire rings throughout the city, with an additional 32 rings placed at tourist beaches like La Jolla Shores, Mission Beach and Ocean Beach for the summer season only.

In 1990, the city had 450 rings of fire. In 2008, as reported by NBC7, the city removed 186 concrete homes from its beaches and shorelines to fill a $43 million gap in its budget. The Parks and Recreation Department estimated at the time that it cost $173,000 a year to maintain them.

Fires are otherwise prohibited, unless they are in a “portable barbecue device”, and bathers dispose of coals in hot coal containers provided by the city.

This allowance for a barbecue opens up some ambiguity in the code. After all, if you cook a hot dog over a wood fire in a small commercial fireplace, does it become a barbecue? The city is now taking steps to end the dispute.

The San Diego City Council’s Environment Committee is considering a proposal Thursday from Councilman Joe LaCava, chair of the committee, and Councilwoman Jen Campbell, who both represent coastal areas, to erase the “barbecue device ” books. Basically, no one will be able to build a wood fire unless it is in a fireplace provided by the city. Or beachgoers can cook over propane-fueled fires.

“The language in today’s order is confusing,” LaCava said Monday. “One paragraph suggests you can (make a fire) and another suggests you can’t. This was problematic for lifeguards and even the police department to enforce the law.

Last year, residents of La Jolla and Windansea rose up against the wood fires, arguing that the smoke is pollution and a health hazard. The city council, which has no authority over city decisions, voted to ask the city to ban wood and charcoal beach fires in favor of propane-powered ones.

LaCava, who represents the coastal area of ​​La Jolla in Torrey Pines, in November, said during a question-and-answer session in La Jolla that he would propose changes to the municipal beach fire code.

Now chairman of the environment committee, it looks like LaCava is proposing to give La Jollans what they want: beach fires allowed in concrete rings – only, or cooking on propane grills.

Quick Science Checkup: Although burning wood does produce significant particulate air pollution, i.e. dust large enough to disrupt lung function (inhaling smoke is bad; shouldn’t be a surprise) , propane is not without pollution. Propane is a fossil fuel that releases a lot of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, causing the planet to warm faster than normal.

“We thought at this point we had a thoughtful compromise,” LaCava said. “Where we go in the years to come, whether industry changes bring carbon-free barbecues or personal appliances, we’ll see.”

Environment committee staff said the move eliminates the illegal dumping or burial of hot coals and air quality concerns around wood burning. But you can still burn wood and coal in town fire pits.

The public can listen to the discussion during the committee hearing at 1 p.m. Thursday.

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