The Saga of OB’s Fire Pits: Almost All of Our Fire Pits Have Been Tentatively Adopted

by on December 17, 2009 · 11 comments

in Civil Rights, Economy, Environment, Ocean Beach, Organizing, San Diego

fire pit removal

We don't want this to happen in OB. San Diego park and recreation crews began removing fire rings from Fiesta Island last December. 2008 file - Union-Tribune

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.)

fire pits mapThese 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.

fire pits 3 - 01The same memo / report from Voice of San Diego gives us some history:

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:

Supporting the cause

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 San Francisco,, 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.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

bodysurferbob December 17, 2009 at 8:55 pm

that is so cool. didn’t know i started something. the devil made me do it.
so, guys, is the OB Rag one of the sponsors?


Shawn Conrad December 18, 2009 at 11:35 am

Frank is pretty much into receiving money, not giving it.


lane tobias December 17, 2009 at 10:33 pm

its interesting to see how the fire pits have gradually declined over the years. I think it proves the city’s been trying to get rid of them for a long time now.


obbohemian December 18, 2009 at 4:42 am

It’s pretty pathetic that the city is so callous and cold when it comes to these kind of matters. It’s all about the almighty dollar-which they don’t seem to be able manage.


oBak December 18, 2009 at 10:51 am

If they take the rings out, I guess we will have to go back to old fashioned beach bonfires.


Larry OB December 18, 2009 at 11:47 am

After the recent storm, the city used front end loaders and trucks to pick up palm fronds from the streets of OB. Some might consider that an excessive use of heavy equipment. The mayor could have simply asked for volunteers to take the palm fronds down to the beach fire rings where chilly surfers could have burned them.

Why do they sort the fire ring trash at Fiesta Island? Doesn’t that mean they have to use more heavy equipment to load it back up and take it to the landfill?

The beach trashcans are metal. They can be leaned over the edge of the fire pit, and the chunks of unburned debris can be easily scooped into the metal can with a long handled pole sifter. Work slowly (like a civil servant) and very little ash is kicked up.


Sunshine December 18, 2009 at 3:24 pm

Does the City publish a list of the “toxic substances” that they say come out of the firepits? What color are they? Do they come in different flavors? Any way to find previous OSHA reports of what substances were actually found? I imagine they would have to also access a hazardous waste site if any thing needed proper disposal.

Any health concerns from current or previous maintenance workers?

I’m sure proper precautions could easily be applied by anyone willing to clean the pits. Can you say Nitrile?


larry January 1, 2010 at 6:26 pm

It seems that this is just another attempt by city government to take away another freedom. It seems funny that San Francisco, a very liberal city, allows volunteers to clean their fire pits as well as other duties in state parks. Saying that it takes two full time city employees with a front loader as well as the liability issue is a cop out. If they take the fire pits away are they going to eliminate those two positions to save money? I think not as they most likely are collectively bargained union jobs. The city needs to keep the focus on important issues, not fire pits. Volunteers with shovels can do just as good a job if not better than the city keeping our fire pits clean.


Danny Morales January 2, 2010 at 12:10 am

Larry-It’s always about the workers and their jobs. The ultimate goal is to outsouce all unionized civil service jobs to the private sector, eliminate the gains of collective bargaining (livable wages, healthcare, pensions and respect) and create a market for the disposal of the public debt. Look to the nation of Chile or as near as city councilperson Carl Demaio for the rationale behind such schemes. So yes, those jobs will go away with the firepits. The workers however will “be takin’ what thier given” ’cause that’s what it means to “be workin’ for a livin”. Then get ready for another shoe to drop children, where firepits will be the least of our concerns (unless your ready for snowballs in HELL)


Karen January 1, 2010 at 10:16 pm

Leave the firepits for everyone to use! As someone interviewed on the news said, it’s like the government is trying to take away things that are fun. The thought of an “adopt-a-firepit” program is great. I hope OB gets to keep the firepits.


claudia j January 14, 2010 at 8:58 pm

Hello Frank, Do we still have 1 Fire Pit left to adopt?????? I talked to Craig E. from the Antique Store & he said the Antique Assoc. is interested in adopting a Fire Pit…Let me know & we’ll get them involved…. Your Great…..Claudia J.


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