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Fire pit deadline arrives

One day left to reach goal to save them

One more day: That’s all that’s left to reach the goal of raising $120,500 to save the beach fire pits, says a spokeswoman for Mayor Jerry Sanders.

“The mayor submits his May revise to the 2011 budget to the City Council on May 7. If, by then he can include the private funding for the fire pit-maintenance positions, the fire pits will remain,” Rachel Laing, the mayor’s press spokeswoman, said via e-mail late last week. “If not, the city will begin the process needed to remove them by July 1 when there will no longer be workers to service them.”

Asked if it might be possible to keep the 185 fire pits in as a “seasonal” option during the Memorial Day to Labor Day summer peak season, the answer was: “There is still no funding in the parks budget for seasonal maintenance, and annual removal of the fire pits is impractical.”

Concerning what will happen to the 5-by-5-foot, 1,954-pound concrete pits, Parks Director Stacy LoMedico said Tuesday, “We’re not going to purposely destroy them. Likely we will store them. How long we store them, I can’t tell you.”

Laing added the city would initiate the fire pit-removal process soon after the Council approves the 2011 budget with the cuts in place.

“What approvals are needed will be determined at that time,” Laing wrote, adding that several other coastal communities — Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, Dana Point, Carlsbad and Silver Strand in Coronado — have all opted to remove their pits as a budget cost-saving measure.

But Deborah Lee, district manager for the San Diego office of the California Coastal Commission, said the agency’s position remains unchanged: A coastal development permit from the Commission to remove the fire pits will be required.

“Typically, it takes a minimum of eight weeks requiring public notice after they’ve filed an application,” said Lee, adding the proposal to remove all of San Diego’s 186 fire pits would appear on a Coastal Commission agenda likely held somewhere in Southern California.

Lee said the permit would be required because “it involves a change in the intensity of use of the area. By removing the fire pits, they’re removing an amenity that draws some visitors to the beach, so it would lessen its attractiveness. Also the physical work itself (removing pits) constitutes development under the Coastal Act.”

A lesson could be learned from the city of Huntington Beach, which opted in February to remove 84 of its 167 fire pits as a budget-cutting measure. But after removing them, Huntington Beach was informed it needed a coastal permit to do so.

“There was a public outcry; they didn’t want to remove them,” said Jim Engle, Huntington Beach’s community services director. “So we decided to keep them from Memorial Day to Labor Day and have them removed the rest of the year during the off season.”

The 84 pits that were removed have all been put back, but Engle said he’s dubious of the cost-cutting value of removing fire pits seasonally.

“If you were to do it 12 months out of the year ... but leaving them in in the summer where you have the bulk of the maintenance is a nominal reduction. We’ll evaluate that with our next (budget) cut.”

As reported on the city’s fire pit website,

www.sandiego.gov/philanthropycenter/opportunities/firepits.html

, only $2,796 of the $120,000 needed to save San Diego beach fire pits had been donated as of April 30. That doesn’t include an offer from the La Jolla Community Foundation to sponsor the seven fire pits at La Jolla Shores — at an annual cost of $650 per ring totaling $4,550. But that action is contingent on other communities in the city following suit with their fire pits.

San Diego city officials have said the fire pit program will only be kept if all fire pits are funded.