CA Coastal Hears Appeal 12B – Carmel Bonfires

For 2 hours and 39 minutes on Friday December 11, 2016, the California Coastal Commission hears testimony and discusses the controversies of beach bonfires in Carmel by the Sea. This excerpt of the official recording covers the complete hearing: the testimony of Mayor Burnett, Monterey Bay Area Chief Air Pollution Control Officer Richard Steadman and concerned citizens on both sides of the issue.

Clean air advocates hope for a “No” vote on this appeal which would force the city’s hand and install wood burning fire rings on the beach; although this approach was recently approved by the City, upon further consideration Mayor Burnett realized that condoning any wood burning jeopardized the health of his community.

To add to the complex issues in this hearing, the City has just 10 days prior declared the beach bonfires a Public Nuisance and unless Coastal decides to work cooperatively with the City, the City will have the final say on the issue and remove them. Coastal seeks a solution that can be applied up and down the coast, and so unfolds a fascinating discussion of the issue of beach burning and its adverse health effects.

The Art and Poetry Contest

In Monterey on December 11, 2016, the Education folks within the California Coastal Commission had the floor to show their impact with school children.

We didn’t know it at the time – and I’ll admit to feeling very impatient during the presentation – but their pitch would have a big impact on the Commissioners, especially as they reconsider the beach bonfire controversies in Carmel.

What are we teaching the children?
What are the healthy ways to enjoy the beach?

Watch the Art and Poetry Contest presentation – see how 3 minutes out of a 7 hour hearing will open eyes and soften hearts.


Seattle’s Scary Winter Skies

No Happy New Year for Seattle residents as unhealthy air threatens the region
No Happy New Year for Seattle residents as unhealthy air threatens the region: Jan 2, 2016 Puget Sound Clean Air Agency

Seattle had a nervous night as stagnant weather combined with a winter inversion to create a Stage 2 Burn Ban Alert for their neighbors to the north and south.

Stage 2 Burn Ban:
No wood burning allowed, including pellet stoves and EPA certified devices. No outdoor burning. No wood burning allowed.

The AQMD has been sending me alerts for North Coastal Orange County, CA. Daily emails describe levels that trigger “Unhealthful for Sensitive Groups” alerts.

Looks like a spam attack, but these are Air Quality Alerts that have been showing up lately
Looks like a spam attack, but these are daily Air Quality Alerts that have been showing up.

New Year's Day 2016
New Year’s Day 2016

Like a hastily named New Year’s resolution, Portland’s crystal clear skies have disappeared over the past few days.

Prevailing winds sweep the skies clean, but the lack of rain means stagnant air, a little dirtier each day.

My New Year’s Resolution Fantasies

Got a New Year’s resolution? I’ve got 7, but they’re more like fantasies than resolutions.

Yesterday I was thinking more about the cold temperatures that would chill me on my bike ride home, but as I gave the subject more thought I found it easier to dream up a resolution for someone other than myself, in this case for the entire City of Portland.

Why not? It’s always easier to find fault in anyone besides yourself and since it’s the New Year why not dream big?

As I give myself permission to dream large it immediately dawns on me – the Paris Climate Accords are only a few weeks old, but where’s the local commitment to do something? Isn’t it more like the yawn heard (half-way) ’round the world? Besides Oslo, is there any city that’s proposing to rise to the challenge of cleaning the air?

How ’bout it Portland? You’re my new hometown and I gotta admit I came here with a little bit of mid-summer fantasy. Your bike trails and cleaner rivers and skies were a huge appeal. But now that the honeymoon is over I see so little difference to most places I’ve ever visited. You cleaner skies are mostly due to prevailing winds; people love their cars and drive them just like everywhere else. Your commitment to traveling by bike seems more like a quaint historical cottage industry than the fierce dedication I imagined.

So here I go, my totally irrational New Year’s Resolution Fantasies

  1. Eliminate cars in the Pearl. Well, of course you can’t eliminate them, but every street could be a one-way section of a big maze with no through traffic routes. Why not downtown, too? You’ve got some gigantic parking garages downtown for starters and why not leave something for next year’s resolution?
  2. Remove all street parking downtown and in the Pearl. Start in the Brewery Blocks where pedestrians are handicapped with no sidewalks. Removing car parking would turn that mini neighborhood into a nightly street faire; everyone would want to come and hang out. Restaurants would flourish.
  3. So all those private surface parking lots would be jammed full – a windfall for those that profit from the automobile? Tax ’em. (If we already do, remember I’m new here, tax them more.)
  4. Close the 405 Fwy. Forever. Then dig it up and convert the space to a huge urban park with bike lanes. Radical? Someday we will because it’s too expensive to maintain 2 freeways through town. Portland’s “Toxic Necklace”, the 5 and 405 freeways with their constant soot poison the city center.
  5. No fireworks — at least for a year. Think about it – Mother Nature already has her hands full with air pollution in every city around the world. Let’s take a break from deliberately poisoning ourselves with fireworks. After our one-year sabbatical we’ll either enjoy the displays even more, or we’ll decide it’s a good thing for our kids and seniors to breathe clean air.
  6. DEQ (Oregon Dept. Environmental Quality) – no more Woodburning Surveys, not until you do something about what you already know. We’re poisoning ourselves with recreational wood burning – Oh, you say it’s your primary source of heating your home? Get some grant money and put it to work to convert these Luddites so they’re not polluting themselves and their neighbors. How hard can that be? DEQ, you know it’s a problem, but you’re tiptoeing quite delicately on this subject. It’s time to take a stand. Start by educating the public. Put your social media machine to work to influence public opinion, and get started right away as this make take a generation to advance.
  7. While you’re at it, DEQ, how about banning wood burning in restaurants? Cigarette smoking in restaurants eventually ended when everybody realized that the food service workers were being poisoned all day, every day. If wood smoke is 12 times more toxic then let’s apply the same regulatory logic and get these 7 days a week polluters to convert to cleaner fuels. Oh, the rotisserie chicken just won’t taste the same? The nearby kids with asthma may spend fewer days in the hospital – tell me which outcome we should favor.

Around the country, cities are demolishing stretches of highway, turning them into parks or boulevards – LATimes

Have I said something to offend everyone? Maybe so, but it’s New Year’s and it’s time for dreaming big.

Not one day a year, but everyday – those car trips on the 405, many would just go away if we had the courage to close the fwy
Not one day a year, but everyday – those car trips on the 405, many would just go away if we had the courage to close the fwy

Influencing Public Opinion

With social media it’s not easy to know what works, but it’s easier to see what doesn’t.

I think it’s safe to say, for major air quality agencies using Facebook to post links on electric cars just doesn’t move the needle. Take this example:

Electric cars are nice, but ‘greenwashing‘ isn’t going to help us solve the big issues that face us.

I’m sure this electric car post links to a lovely article, but it doesn’t pack much of a wallop in terms of influencing public opinion. It’s a fluff piece – ‘greenwashing’ without educating.

Air pollution agencies are charged with huge tasks; at AQMD that would be cleaning the air in the country’s most polluted city, Los Angeles. From a distance that sounds like a doable undertaking, but potentially many future programs will require us to change the way we work, play and transport. Behavioral change doesn’t come easy, so to effectively leverage social media our favorite air quality agencies should start whittling away on the issues that will take the most effort to move forward.

Solar energy farms are great, but no one has to lift a finger to encourage more of these worthwhile efforts. It’s time to dig deeper, to share messages that will impact public opinion.

Air pollution control agencies are governed by their boards. These boards are composed of some appointed experts, but mostly they’re made up of local elected officials. At the AQMD that’s a member each from the County Board of Supervisors of L.A., Orange and San Bernardino Counties. These local elected officials are in many cases, people who aspire to higher office – they’re reluctant to make unpopular decisions that will ‘negatively’ affect their constituents. For example, a gas tax or a beach bonfire moratorium might be the best way to clean the air and assure a healthy environment, but gas taxes are a good way to get upset in the voting booth – that’s why we don’t see ‘tough love’ solutions, even if they might be a panacea. So attempting to influence the local elected officials who sit on these air quality boards isn’t a sure-fire approach. You’ve got to educate the voters to eventually make the progress we all wish for. Social media can be very effective in such a grassroots campaign strategy to influence public opinion, but you’ve got to lead with the right message.

This is what makes wood smoke so dangerous to public health - it's so tiny your body has no defense.
This is what makes wood smoke so dangerous – it’s so tiny your body has no defense.

So instead of fluff pieces, our air quality agencies should post messages that influence public opinion.

Why is particulate matter so dangerous?
Why is recreational wood burning such a threat to public health?

Unless we educate the public, we’re not likely to influence our elected officials. Once the public understands the risks, our air quality agencies will have an easier job.

What can you do? Talk to your regional air quality agency and offer a critique of their social media posts. Electric cars are great, but restricting air pollution at its source will have a more immediate effect on public health.

Would you bring  a child if you knew? Each beach bonfire emits the equivalent of 800 cigarettes per minute!
Would you bring a child if you knew?
Each beach bonfire emits the equivalent toxics as 800 cigarettes per minute!

Why Wouldn’t They Listen To Me?

It’s a natural reaction – if you’ve testified before the Coastal Commission on beach bonfires in the past couple of years, you’re wondering:

Why wouldn’t they listen to me?

The APCD's Richard Steadman — they limited him to only 2 minutes, but they listened
The APCD‘s Richard Steadman — they limited him to only 2 minutes, but they listened

They’re listening now.

On the long ride home from Monterey – after the amazing Coastal Commission hearing where Carmel By The Sea prevailed in its attempt to keep a moratorium on beach fires while it works out a pilot project to test propane – we made a few calls to share the exciting news.

We’ve done this before. For us it’s been a long process of keeping everyone up to date.

We attended all the meetings at the South Coast Air Quality Management District, all the Newport Beach and Huntington Beach City Council meetings and when beach bonfires got written up into a terrible piece of legislation, we went to Sacramento to let anyone who would listen know that the bill, AB 1102, deserved to die in Committee, which it eventually did. On the way home from these hearings we’d often call our City Manager to brief him. So the few folks we called last week were happy to take our call — and they all had the same reaction:

Why wouldn’t they listen to me?

I quickly jumped on one reason why: repetition.

Last time we presented, the Commissioners were more inclined to listen to our detractors. Class-warfare arguments are pretty compelling, that’s why people toss them about – it’s hard to defend yourself against these sticky, but specious rants.

This time, the Commissioners had had time to reflect. You could hear it in their comments. They’d had time to think about the adverse health effects of woodsmoke, without an impassioned advocate jumping up and down in front of a microphone. They read newspapers, they watch television, and these and other air pollution issues are gaining increasing coverage. The fact that Governor Brown was in Paris for the Climate Accords didn’t hurt either.

Is the tide turning?
Will more elected officials begin to listen when previously they turned a deaf ear?

There’s still a long way to go to make California’s beaches smoke-free, but the message is worth repeating.


Ca Coastal Commission seeks cleaner beach fires

Coastal Commissioner Shallenberger drives a stake in the heart of wood burning beach fires.

Last Friday the City of Carmel fought an appeal that would place 26 fire rings on their beach; instead Mayor Burnett wanted to create a pilot program using cleaner burning propane. Like in previous hearings, Coastal Staff has written a bureaucratic, curmudgeonly report to obscure the issue: Is propane a gas or a liquid?

To win the day, a “No” vote is needed, but there are issues plaguing the Commissioners: technically, the City is not in compliance. As they grapple with the conflict, listen to Commissioner Shallenberger set staff straight and in the process, change the outcome of this appeal and the future of wood burning statewide:

The science is in; the debate’s over – wood smoke is a carcinogen. It just is… when we have wood burning fires on the beach, it is an unhealthy recreation.

How will they vote?
Like a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth inning – watch the Commissioners change their minds as they vote to clean the air.

Wait for it!


WHO Report on Wood Burning

from WHO report
In 2013 the World Health Organization classified particulate matter as a Group 1 carcinogen. In “Outdoor air pollution a leading environmental cause of cancer deaths” their evaluation showed:

An increasing risk of lung cancer with increasing levels of exposure to particulate matter and air pollution.

Now they’re back with a new, comprehensive report that goes straight to the problem sources, “Residential Heating With Wood and Coal, Health Impacts and Policy Options“. Simply put,

Evidence links emissions from wood and coal heating to serious health effects such as respiratory and cardiovascular mortality and morbidity.

Air pollution resulting from wood burning is a problem worldwide, locally, too:

Burning solid fuel in homes produces more neighbourhood-level PM pollution than using electricity, gas or liquid fuels for heating. Wood space heating was responsible for 11% of California’s annual average PM2.5 and 22% of the state’s winter PM2.5 emissions in 2012 (Air Resources Board, 2014).

The opportunity is straightforward — residential and recreational wood burning,

is a sector in which PM2.5 and BC (black carbon) emissions can potentially be reduced with greater cost–effectiveness than many other emission reduction options.

Wood burning continues to be ‘low-hanging fruit’ for air quality regulators. Part of the problem is that the public considers it a “green” or renewable fuel source, so public outreach and education must be scaled up.

Images from the WHO report
Images from the WHO report

In Chapter 6, it’s the policy options that intrigue, including “No Burn Days”, both voluntary and mandatory, are “usually called when weather conditions are cold and still.”

“No burn” areas are needed… it is important to define urban areas with dense populations and/or geographical features (such as valleys between mountains) where residential heating or cooking with small-scale appliances burning solid fuels (wood and coal) is not permitted at all

Recreational wood burning along Southern California’s beaches qualifies. Dense urban areas define the region and specific locations in Newport Beach allow burning too close to resident homes. Consider the geographical features at Big Corona beach in Corona del Mar, where 100 foot high bluffs surrounding the beach trap particulate matter from the 25 beach bonfires — a candidate for a No Burn Area? Especially in winter when inversions bring adverse exposure levels for nearby residents.


UCLA Environmental Report

UCLA announces its first of its kind Environmental Report Card for Los Angeles. Covering the ecosystem, air, water, waste, energy and quality of life, the report establishes a baseline for eventual improvements.

The challenge of moving towards sustainability in Los Angeles County is daunting: it is the most populous county in the nation and consists of 88 individual cities. After nearly two years of gathering and analyzing data, the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at UCLA has developed an Environmental Report Card for the County of Los Angeles, the first of its kind in the nation for a major metropolitan area. The aim of this report card is three-fold: to provide a broad picture of current conditions, to establish a baseline against which to assess the region’s progress towards environmental sustainability, and as a thought provoking tool to catalyze policy discussion and change.

Del Mar Delights

It’s good to take a break every so often, confronting the never-ending issues of air quality can get depressing, so I’m in Del Mar for the weekend. I knew it would be lovely and relaxing, but I didn’t expect such awareness, like this sign at the beach:


Notice the prohibition on charcoal. I’ll bet it’s really the lighter-fluid odors they’re after, but propane burns much cleaner. Why can’t we have this in my hometown, Newport Beach?

Then this next sign — too good to be true?

“Protect the surf • No Idling” — these are two foreign concepts in Orange County. 

It’s not all hearts and flowers here in Del Mar; our restaurant last night had more tiki torches and fireplaces going than I could count — all propane and natural gas, but still, they were doing their part to heat the atmosphere. But that seems like a more manageable step to resolve.