It was one week ago that the idea was presented to have OBceans adopt the community’s fire pits in order to save them from the City’s plans to remove them. One of our commenters, bodysurferbob, told us that we would really regret it if we allowed the Cityto take the fire pits and offered:
I propose we in Ocean Beach find a sponsor for each fire pit on our beaches. Whether a business, a church, a civic organization, a sports team, a circle of friends, or just simply an individual, I believe that we can organize sponsors who will maintain their pit for the rest of the community. We can do this. Let’s start now, before it’s too late.
Since then, the OB Rag has sponsored an adoption campaign and has joined the call for the community to step up the “OB-Way” and take on the maintenance of the fire pits for a year. One of our staff members documented that there were currently only eight fire pits on OB beaches, and we mapped and numbered them.
And at this point, we have potentially seven sponsors of the fire pits. The current pits are almost all adopted. (If there is a surge of requests, we could work out a system where groups share a fire pit.)
These individuals, groups or businesses have stepped forward as of this writing, and have either promised to adopt one of them or is keenly interested and is trying to figure out the logistics. Until such time as the campaign is ready to be formally introduced to the community, the Mayor and the City, their identities will remain confidential. OB Rag staff will continue to accept requests for adoption.
There appears to be wide acceptance of this Adopt-a-Fire-Pit program. The OB Rag is currently running a poll on this question, and up to now (6pm 12/17/09) 90% of the twenty respondents like the idea. Regardless, the removal of the pits is back in the news.
We have also found the City’s own Fire Pit Fund, which has raised $1,570. The City says it spends $120,500 yearly. This cost is explained:
… cleaning them is full-time work for two City employees. They require a front loader and a dump truck to haul off the debris and ash — and to avoid contact with the hot, hazardous and sometimes toxic materials thrown into the fires. The annual cost of maintenance, including salaries and equipment, is $120,500.
Back a year ago, when the pits were still on the cutting-room floor, the cost was said to be $173,000. The details were outlined in a memo from the Mayor’s Office a year ago, and reprinted by Voice of San Diego:
That cost was primarily due to the need to clean the fire pits of ash and debris at least once a week to protect the health and safety of beach users. The cleaning process required two employees, using a front loader and a dump truck, and took an average of 30 minutes for each fire pit. The pits measure 60″ by 60″ by 15″ and weigh 1,954 pounds.
To be serviced, the fire pits had to be lifted so the ash and debris could be dug out and transported to a maintenance yard on Fiesta Island. There, the ash was cleaned of the glass, nails, needles, bottle caps, cans, plastic bottles and other objects commonly found in the debris. The crews that service these pits take protective measures to safeguard their health.
As we dig into this issue, it appears that OB has lost some fire pits over the recent years. According to a 2003 memo from the San Diego Police Department, we used to have 10 fire pits. The two that were on Dog Beach are no longer there. In addition, we learned from that same memo that during the summer, OB used to have 16 pits total. An additional six then were added for the hot season.
Over the past 10 years, the number of fire pits on San Diego beaches has gradually declined. In 1990, the city had 450 rings; however many were removed in response to resident complaints and budget reductions. In fiscal year 2004, the City Council reduced the number of fire rings from 300 to 150; since that time, approximately 35 were replaced.
One of the big obstacles that the City has thrown into the path of any volunteer-led effort to clean and maintain fire pits is the issue of insurance liability. Someone cleaning their pit may be injured and end up suing the City.
I have two responses: First, this program is modeled – in a way – after CalTran’s Adopt-A-Highway program. Which they believe is very successful. CalTrans does not require insurance for their volunteers – so why would the City of San Diego require it for doing something much less dangerous than cleaning a freakin freeway?
Second, volunteers can sign a waiver, waiving their right to sue the City or its employees for any injuries sustained while cleaning the pit.
Of course, we are not the first to call for volunteers to clean and save fire pits around San Diego, as the issue is not new. There’s a group called Save the Fire Pits – they have a website and have been attempting to lobby the Mayor and the City Council over the past year. Their facebook has 3,884 members (the OB Rag joined last year).
Their website has a treasure trove of info and links, and answers frequent questions, some of which are pertinent to OBceans:
Can we volunteer to clean the pits with our community group?
The city says that due to liability and toxic substances, volunteers will not be accepted. It also doesn’t help that volunteers would be taking the jobs of two paid city workers.
But volunteers clean the fire pits in,, state parks and national forests all the time? Good point, but that won’t help you.
Can my neighborhood group pay to adopt our local pits?
The city says no. It is all-or-nothing.
How much would need to be donated?
In an apparent attempt to make people mad, the city told the Union Tribune that someone would need to come up with $259,000 to make the city stop picking up the fire rings. (18 months worth of maintenance money)
The city now has told people verbally that $173,000 would buy back our fire pits for a year.
Doesn’t this sound a bit like extortion…give us your money or we take your fire rings? (this is an actual comment from the web) No comment.
Don’t forgot, however, that we’re doing our thing here, the OB-Way. We are organizing this Adoption program because the fire pits are symbolic of not only beach culture, a San Diego and OB tradition, but of what is wrong about this entire budget process. They’re only fire pits. And individuals and small groups can plainly make a difference here. We’re holding the line at them, and have drawn a line in the sand.