Thursday, April 11, 2024

Coronado to Limit Beach Fires to City-Provided Fire Rings

The change still hinges on the California Coastal Commission's approval

It’s a classic California scene: A night-time beach peppered with bonfires. But to nearby residents, when the sun goes down, their windows must close.

“It’s tough in the middle of the summer when you want to open up the windows, but when you do, it smells like Duraflame,” said Andrew Corley, who lives at the Coronado Shores condominiums.

Coronado will ban fires outside of city-provided fire rings in an effort to balance access to an iconic recreational activity with smoke concerns from nearby residents.

Shores residents, whose homes line the narrow strip of South Beach, say the smoke is impacting their health and quality of life. Environmentalists say personal fires are harming beaches, since beachgoers often leave their coals in the sand.

“I haven’t found anyone to advocate for keeping the fires open on the Shores,” said Councilmember John Duncan, who requested the council revisit its policy on beach fires. “What I’ve learned is that a large amount of the Shores community really do endure a large impact from burning on the narrow beach.”

Council voted unanimously on Feb. 20 to change its policy on beach fires, but any changes it makes must be approved by the California Coastal Commission, which is tasked with, among other things, maintaining public access to the beach. The city must also approve the changed policy at two public hearings before it can change its ordinance.

That review, if accepted, can take a year or longer.

A concern with the CCC is that it may take issue with limiting bonfire access only to city-provided fire rings. Coronado has eight fire rings on North Beach, and they are claimed quickly, so theoretically, eliminating personal bonfires would reduce access to an iconic regional form of recreation.

Councilmember Mike Donovan suggested that if needed, the city could assuage the Coastal Commission by potentially adding more fire rings, a suggestion that the rest of the council supported.

The last time Coronado reconsidered its fire policy was in 2014, and at the time, the city worried prohibiting personal fires might not be approved by the CCC, said Councilmember Carrie Downey.

At the time, residents were concerned about hot coals and nails from pallets left in the sand, so the city moved to restrict burn materials to clean wood or propane and to hire security to enforce its bonfire rules. That, Downey said, eliminated the safety concern the city faced at the time.

“We did what we could, but we were led to believe that it would be a fight with the Coastal Commission,” Downey said. “We try not to poke the bear.”

The change will prohibit fires on the beaches in personal fire pits. Mayor Richard Bailey suggested a smokeless fire pit called the Solo Stove, which would allow personal fires without the smoke impact.

“Those (city-provided) fire rings are highly utilized, and people can be waiting down there for hours,” Bailey said, noting that his main goal is to protect the health and air quality for nearby residents. “But if there is a viable alternative, is that an option we want to take totally off the table now, recognizing that it’s going to create greater utilization of an already over-utilized resource?”

However, the council agreed that enforcement would be difficult. The city currently employs security to monitor for proper beach fire usage, but it is difficult to discern which personal fires are complying with current rules.

“I’m intrigued, but not intrigued enough to change our ordinance over it,” Councilmember Casey Tanaka said, adding that he prefers simple, easily digested public policy. “It’s very easy to explain to our citizenry that, ‘Yes, you can still use the fire rings, but everything else, no.’”

If the Coastal Commission objects to the change over beach accessibility, the city will offer to add more rings, which are 5-foot squares placed 60-70 feet apart and cost $2,000 each.

This change will not impact the privately owned beach in front of the Hotel del Coronado, although the hotel must comply with the California Coastal Act, the legislation that formed the Coastal Commission.

“Walking past the Del, it’s unrecognizable from the Del we all grew up with,” Corley said.

Tanaka said he will reach out to the hotel about its own fire policies.

After city council unanimously approved a motion to restrict fires to only the city-provided fire rings, a smattering of applause erupted, although the change still hinges on the Coastal Commission’s approval.

Megan Kitt
Megan Kitt
Megan has worked as a reporter for more than 15 years, and her work in both print and digital journalism has been published in more than 25 publications worldwide. She is also an award-winning photographer. She holds BA degrees in journalism, English literature and creative writing and an MA degree in creative writing and literature. She believes a quality news publication's purpose is to strengthen a community through informative and connective reporting.Megan is also a mother of three and a Navy spouse. After living around the world both as a journalist and as a military spouse, she immediately fell in love with San Diego and Coronado for her family's long-term home.Have news to share? Send tips, story ideas or letters to the editor to: [email protected]

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