Public-use pits OK’d to dampen dispute over beach bonfires 

In hopes of extinguishing the controversy that has surrounded Ocean Beach since 2002, new public-use fire pits will be installed at the popular bonfire spot.

The National Park Service has approved a new plan, in partnership with Burners Without Borders and the Surfrider Foundation of San Francisco, that calls for average citizens to pitch their design ideas for an estimated 12 to 20 new structures that will be installed on Earth Day.

"The beach is disgusting, and the way it’s set up now, there is no accountability [for those who hold bonfires]," said Buffy Maguire, who owns the neighboring Java Beach Café and has been outspoken about the ashes and glass, among other things, left behind after bonfires.

"I am in favor of anything that will create more accountability," Maguire said.

The National Park Service, which oversees Ocean Beach as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, considered outlawing fires on the beach beginning in May 2006. Claiming it did not have the $90,000 a year in funds that it costs to maintain and clean up the area, the national bureau was met by an overwhelming response from the community against the ban and a stay was granted through the summer.

Since then, the fire pits have been proposed as a possible solution to control the garbage problem.

Designs for the structures are expected to meet certain criteria in order to be approved — they must meet height and weight requirements, be efficient for maintenance, have reflective markings, be made of durable materials and be able to contain all flame and ash. Proposed sketches must also include expected costs, as the National Park Service has allocated funds for the fire pits.

The proposal is also seeking signage designs for pre-conceptualized welcoming and regulatory slogans for the pits — which will be used on a first-come, first-served basis.

Tom Price of Burners Without Borders, coordinator of the project, said he hopes the new pits will encourage a sense of community and at the same time quell controversy.

"This will be a display of public art that will be easy to share and clean up," said Price, who said if all goes as planned, "everyone wins."

Eric Phillips, a member of the San Francisco chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, which works to protect beaches, said conditions at the beach are unacceptable.

"We volunteered to help coordinate the new plan because it’s the best compromise between those who want to have fires in Ocean Beach and those who say the debris and garbage left are unacceptable," said Phillips, who added that fire pits have been successful in Los Angeles.

Initial proposals must be submitted by Jan. 14, and final designs will be selected by Jan. 28. If all goes well, the new pits should be installed April 20, Earth Day.

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