Originally posted on July 13, 2009
Several weeks ago the OB Rag published an article I wrote about burners (people who spin fire at Burning Man), and hoopers (people who dance with flaming hula-hoops). A group of hoopers had been ticketed on June 4th, with fines totaling $2,500. They got these tickets practicing in a small, controlled group at the beach in OB.
The article received a great response, but I started thinking about the voices that hadn’t been heard. The week before the Fourth of July had been an inopportune time to contact the police division, and thus no words from the police made it into the article. To rectify the situation, I called into the Western Division of The SDPD and left a message. The next day, I receive a phone call.
Sergeant Misty Cedrun, the sergeant in charge of the beach team, is calling me herself, on behalf of Officer Schultz. Officer Schultz, who gave the hoopers the ticket, is in her division, and the two of them were behind the decision to ticket the burners.
Cedrun begins by stressing how professional and respectful the group of hoopers was. Then she cites municipal code SDMC 63.0102(b)(11) (which is what Schultz used to ticket the hoopers) as meaning that any fire on the beach must be in a firepit or a barbeque.
“The municipal code is clear,” she says, “whether they’re on the sand or in the grass, fire has to be enclosed.”
This summer is Cedrun’s first running the beach team, but she has organized a proactive team here in the west division for a year and a half. Officer Schultz, she says, has been on the beach for about two years.
“We deal with all the problems on the beach, from dogs off the leash and alcohol to felonies and stabbings,” she says, “and don’t even get me started on the marshmallow fight on the 4th.”
She loses herself in a brief tangent anyway, on the dangers and annoyances of a marshmallow war.
Apparently, and interestingly, municipal code says you can only throw water and chicken feathers on the ground, so marshmallows are illegal. Weird. Soon she returns to the topic at hand, her segue being: “so you see, those fire throwers are easy to deal with compared to marshmallows.”
And, we’re back. Cedrun explains that her division received an isolated complaint from a small group of OB locals. The residents wanted to know why the burners and hoopers were allowed to practice, but the residents couldn’t have fires outside of the firepits. So Schultz came on the scene, warning one group of burners on May 29th before ticketing a separate group of hoopers on June 4th.
The burners and hoopers had been approached by other police officers in the past, and told to practice on specific spots on the beach. They were never shut down or ticketed, and they’ve been practicing at dog beach for over three years, according to burner, and group organizer, Scott Wakeham.
I ask Cedrun why that is, and she sighed the weary sigh of a mother of a fickle brood.
“Unfortunately, in this line of work, you ask ten cops ten questions, and you get seven different answers.”
This seems all wrong, so I probe further. She explained that, when the law is not very clearly defined, officers have to figure out what the boundaries are for themselves, and they are all going to be a little different. She uses the example of smoking on the beach. Some officers say the boundary to smoke is where the sidewalk starts, some say the seawall, some say across the street. They are given the position of having to enforce boundaries that are blurred.
“They don’t all have the fortitude to say, ‘I don’t know’ when a situation comes up,” Cedrun admits.
So officers in the past read code SDMC 63.0102(b)(11) as allowing burners and hoopers only near the fire pits. Officer Schultz and Sergeant Cedrun have together changed that verdict, drawing the boundary at no spinning or dancing with fire, at all. Ever. Cedrun says it is dangerous, but hurries to explain that officers can’t give their opinions.
“We just have to follow the law as we read it,” Cedrun explains, “but I do encourage them to fight this in court. Let someone who has the authority to decide dismiss it, if they want.”
Code SDMC 63.0102(b)(11) reads, without interpretation: “It is unlawful to kindle or allow to be kindled any fire or bonfire, or throw upon the ground a lighted match, lighted cigar or cigarette, or anything that would be liable to set fire to any grass, tree, shrub, building, or other property; provided, however, that nothing in section 63.0102(b)(11) prohibits persons from kindling fires in stoves, ovens, or similar facilities provided by the Park and Recreation Department.”
It seems that practicing on the beach makes this law moot, as grass, shrubs, trees, buildings and property are all out of harms way. Indeed, it seems that the beach is the only place to practice and still be in compliance with the code.
Cedrun warns, however, that it is not so simple. She explains that the hoopers were not even technically on the beach, but were instead in the grass park next to dog beach. Not much to burn here either, especially with “safeties” (people standing at the ready with fire blankets), but what about the private property there?
“People like it,” says Allison Walkey, one of the ticketed hoopers, “people come out of their houses to watch us a lot of the time. We’re free entertainment.”
The most pressing issue at hand for the burners and hoopers is where to practice, and to that Cedrun has no answers, although she does again assure me that the group of hoopers was very professional and she hopes that they find a place to go.
“I don’t know if the city would issue special use permits,” she muses, “I don’t know where one goes to practice that craft.”
Well, not the beach anymore.