Unnamed donor saves fire pits

Beach fire pits being removed from city shoreline parks between now and the new year got a last-minute reprieve when an anonymous donor stepped forward with a $259,500 pledge to fund them for the next 18 months.

The donor said he is not a frequent user of the fire pits himself, but that he wanted every child to be able to know the joys of a bonfire on the beach.

Budget cuts

Mayor Jerry Sanders proposed removing fire pits from city beaches and shoreline parks in order to help trim the city’s $43 million budget shortfall. City workers had already begun removing 186 concrete fire pits from Mission Bay Park, Mission Beach, Pacific Beach, Ocean Beach and La Jolla last week to save the $173,000 a year it costs to maintain them.

Residents ‘relieved’

News of the salvation of fire pits has been well received by some residents in beachside communities, like La Jolla.

Mary Coakley, a member of the La Jolla Shores Association, had warned of the “unintended consequences” of removing the popular beach recreational amenities.

“Fire rings are a huge help in containing crowds at the beach,” she said.

“Safety always trumps every other issue. Safety is certainly an issue here. Our merchants’ association had voted to support the fire rings at the Shores.”

Safety a concern

Joe La Cava, president of Bird Rock Community Council and La Jolla Community Planning Association, noted fire rings are not a public benefit.

“They are a safety measure,” he said. “If you take out the rings, then the police need to step up nightly patrols and ensure there are no fires on the beaches.”

“We have little concern for those that use the fire rings; those folks will likely have fires anyway,” wrote La Cava in an e-mail. “The concern is with those that visit the beach the next day who are at risk of stepping on hot coals and other debris.”

Hefty clean-up

The cost of keeping fire rings has much to do with the need to clean them of ash and debris at least once a week to protect beachgoers’ health and safety. Cleaning requires two employees using a front loader and a dump truck, and takes an average of 30 minutes per pit, each of which weighs nearly 2,000 pounds. To be serviced, fire pits have to be lifted so ash and debris can be dug out and transported to a maintenance yard on Fiesta Island where glass, nails, bottles and other recyclables are separated out.

Stacey LoMedico, head of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department who had begun complying with the city’s order to remove fire rings, had left the door open to their being “resurrected” in the future by allowing them to be stored for future use.

Fire pit fund

The donation is the first received by the city’s Fire Pit Fund, which was set up when the fire pit program faced elimination because of the city’s midyear budget deficit. Mayor Sanders urges citizens and corporations that want to preserve the fire pit program to contribute or hold fundraisers for the Fire Pit Fund.

If enough money is raised by December 2009, Sanders will be able to recommend another year of funding for the program when he proposes the city’s fiscal year 2011 budget.