Woodsmoke penetrated every part of our home.
Close the doors and windows, sure, but we soon learned that did little to stop the hazardous particulate from wafting into our home, our lives, our lungs. We sought help.
We reached out to social media. We found new friends who suffered in similar ways, often by the burning of a nearby neighbor insensitive to their pleas. They pointed us to resources that helped to make our case. They cheered our modest victories and consoled us in our defeats. We came away from the experience with the first beach bonfire regulation in the nation.
This modest, call it weak, regulation was attacked at the statehouse, where the Assembly voted unanimously to overturn it. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously ruled against us. City Councils across Southern California followed suit. It was if the world had gone mad – our air pollution advocacy was reviled in every corner. The Coastal Commission ridiculed our arguments, questioned our motivations and let those who would frame the issue as class-warfare, the rich versus the poor, hold sway. We were called racists by the Chairman of the Orange County Board of Supervisors; “Someone who should know better,” consoled one of our few political allies.
We traveled to Sacramento and testified at the various Senate hearings. We lost every roll call vote. Our well-funded opponents flew in the NAACP and LULAC, their Hispanic equivalent, who would both stand at the microphone and call us racists.
We couldn’t stop this madness – soon air pollution in the form of beach bonfires would be enshrined in the state constitution. But then our opponents got greedy – they added last minute language to make the pending legislation retroactive, with penalties. That forced one more Senate hearing, in Appropriations where it was nudged into Suspense. We had no idea, but bills came out of Suspense without a roll call vote. AB 1102 never made it out of Suspense and we’ll never know who to thank for stopping this nightmare legislation. It seemed like a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 9th inning – we had won. We had stopped the Legislature. We were elated. But our success would be short lived.
It was an election year and political pundits saw a platform that would bring a new majority to my local city council. “Save The Fire Rings” became their cynical if popular battle cry – they were swept into office as Team Newport. Their first order of business, to rescind the city’s compliance with the new bonfire regulation, to tear up all the pamphlets in english and spanish that warned beachgoers of the hazards, to stop the generous program that swapped a big bag of charcoal, two bags for many, in lieu of their bundle of firewood. Instead they would comply to the minimum letter of the law – they would space the fire pits further apart and if that meant that some would end up closer to nearby residents’ homes, so be it. It was payback for the whistleblowers. Their callous plan pitted neighbor against neighbor by suggesting the toxic pits could be spread across the city if necessary to comply. Neighborhood groups could have rejected the plan in its entirety, but human nature played its part. “Keep the fire pits where they are, where they’ve always been,” became the cynical response. We were poisoned and vilified in our own community.
Stay and fight? Maybe we should have, but only a few months after this stinging setback I was diagnosed with cancer. It scared the crap out of my doctor. The specialists that followed each voiced similar concerns. Two weeks after my surgery my wife threw me in the car and drove us to Portland where family awaited.
Time for me to heal. Time for both of us to lick our wounds. Today we’re both strong enough to return to the battlefront. But there are no beach bonfires here in Portland.
Then only 2 weeks ago, Oregon DEQ announces industrial toxics are polluting eastside neighborhoods.
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