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La Jolla Parks & Beaches board decides to ask city to ban wood and charcoal fires at Barber Tract beaches

Remnants from a beach fire are scattered in the sand at Marine Street Beach in La Jolla.
(File)

The La Jolla Parks & Beaches advisory group is lending its support to the Barber Tract Neighborhood Association in its quest to eliminate wood and charcoal fires on beaches in its area.

LJP&B voted during its Dec. 7 meeting to write a letter to the city of San Diego requesting a ban on all wood and charcoal fires and permitting only propane-fueled fires at Barber Tract beaches, including Marine Street Beach, where the issue seems most prevalent.

The Barber Tract Neighborhood Association has been working with LJP&B for about six months to try to resolve issues associated with beach fires, such as parties and alcohol use, smoke wafting into nearby houses, and coals and other fire remnants being used as “graffiti tools” or being buried in the sand where they can remain hot and be stepped on by unsuspecting beach-goers. With the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, residents are reporting an increase in beach attendance and illegal fires.

Currently, beach fires are prohibited from midnight to 5 a.m. and must be contained to city-provided fire rings (there are none at Marine Street). Additional regulations indicate that fuel must be “clean, dry wood or charcoal only. No pallets, painted wood or nails.”

As an alternative, BTNA members support using propane devices as fuel.

“Portable liquid propane devices are currently allowed under the existing municipal code,” said Barber Tract resident Dorie DeFranco. “These allow beach-goers to continue to enjoy beach fires, but they are smokeless, have no dangerous particulates and embers and require no cleanup.”

LJP&B member and BTNA liaison Janet Stratford-Collins said: “The big concern is that the wood fires are real safety hazards and are dangerous. To look at the issues, a working group researched other beach communities, liability, fossil fuels, air pollutants and wood fire hazards.”

To facilitate a transition to propane-only fires, should that come to pass, the working group came up with a two-pronged approach that Stratford-Collins said “mirrors what the Police Department is trying to do” with education and enforcement.

To improve education, the board discussed adding a sticker to existing city signage encouraging use of propane devices “in positive language” instead of outlining what is not allowed. For example, instead of reading “No wood fires,” the sticker could read “Propane fires only.”

The sticker, which is being reviewed by city staff, would include a QR code that would direct users to the city’s website, where all the regulations can be found.

Enforcement is the hard part, Stratford-Collins said.

“The beach fires are considered a Category 4 [call], so police will respond, but it will depend on what is happening in Categories 1 through 3 in other areas,” Stratford-Collins said. “We looked at park rangers, but there are only two and they do not work after dark and they are unarmed, so they will not do beach patrols. We never came up with anything to put forward with enforcement.”

During trustees’ deliberation, LJP&B member Melinda Merryweather said she supports wood fires at the beach, though she added, “I think there is nothing wrong with adding propane containers to the existing fires that are held there.”

“I doubt very seriously that the city of San Diego would change the rules for just a couple of beaches,” Merryweather said.

LJP&B President Ann Dynes said BTNA “won’t know until they ask.”

BTNA President Mike Cole said the group is aware of the challenge ahead and is working with city leadership. “We understand the ban we are asking for may require a change in city ordinance, but our neighbors feel we have a significant health and safety issue,” he said.

A motion to write a letter supporting a ban on wood and coal fires passed 10-6.

Other LJP&B news

Commendation for ‘mayor’ of La Jolla: With her last day in office looming, departing City Councilwoman Barbara Bry offered a commendation to former LJP&B member and community volunteer Bill Robbins. Bry ran unsuccessfully for San Diego mayor in November rather than a second term on the council representing District 1, which includes La Jolla.

Newly elected Councilman Joe LaCava was sworn in to the seat Dec. 10.

Bill Robbins holds a specially made award in November recognizing his community service in La Jolla.
Bill Robbins holds a specially made award in November recognizing his community service around Scripps Park and La Jolla Cove.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

Bry said she got to know Robbins during her candidacy for City Council in 2016 and continues to see him as she runs errands in The Village.

“I may not have become mayor of San Diego, but you are the mayor of La Jolla,” Bry told Robbins. “You are an extraordinary person, and I am honored to know you and count you as a friend.”

She said she would send Robbins his commendation, in which she expresses “La Jolla’s gratitude for the many selfless contributions he’s made to it.”

LJP&B created an award for Robbins that it bestowed in November to recognize his volunteerism at La Jolla Cove.

Car show leaving La Jolla in 2021: The La Jolla Concours d’Elegance car show, a major fundraiser for the La Jolla Historical Society, will not be held in The Village in 2021.

The outdoor car show was canceled this year due to coronavirus-related restrictions, and Historical Society Executive Director Heath Fox said that in the interest of safety, the event will be moved to a larger location for its 2021 edition.

“There is too much uncertainty and complications in [having it in The Village],” he said. “We are going to hold the Concours in 2021 at Viejas Casino & Resort [in Alpine]. There is a lot more room for us to spread out. Viejas tribal council has their own COVID management team and they, as an autonomous government, work with the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], so they can manage that for us. ... But it is our intention to come back to The Village in 2022, when hopefully we will all be in a much better place with regard to the pandemic and it will start to be something we see in the rearview mirror.”

The Concours d’Elegance historically brings hundreds of cars to Scripps Park and along Coast Boulevard, along with thousands of spectators.

Election committee report: Ahead of the LJP&B board’s annual election next month, a nominating committee presented a slate of officers and took calls for nominations from the floor — both of which yielded some surprising results.

The committee nominated Claudia Baranowski for president, Bob Evans for vice president, Marie Hunrichs for corresponding secretary and Dynes, the current president, as recording secretary.

In nominations from the floor, Mary Ellen Morgan nominated herself for vice president.

There have been repeated calls in recent months from some members of the public for Hunrichs and Morgan to be removed from the board due to their controversial comments in September about the Black Lives Matter movement and chalk art drawn on the La Jolla Bike Path in support of it.

Next meeting: La Jolla Parks & Beaches next meets at 4 p.m. Monday, Jan. 25, online. Learn more at lajollaparksbeaches.org.