Fire pits threatened – again – supporters seek private funding

by on April 22, 2011 · 4 comments

in Culture, Economy, Ocean Beach, Organizing, San Diego

Editor: The firepits in OB and at the rest of the beach and bay are on the budget chopping block once again.  Last year, the OB Rag was instrumental in raising the issue of saving the fire pits/ rings and began an “Adopt-A-Fire-Pit” Program. Check out this for an historic over-view, and here and here and here.

By Hailey Persinger / SignOnSanDiego /April 22, 2011

SAN DIEGO — For the third time in as many years, the city is considering the removal of the nearly 200 fire pits scattered around San Diego’s beaches to help close a multimillion dollar budget gap.

And, for the third time, a push to raise private funds to keep the pits in place is underway. The only question now is if the $120,500 annual expense can be raised before the pits are set to be ripped out on July 1.

The iconic image of Southern California families gathered around beach bonfires is plastered on marketing materials and brochures created by the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau and sent out to travelers across the nation. To some, those photos represent a promise to tourists that the city will give them a chance to use one of the 186 fire pits located on five beaches.

To others, like Kevin Cheeseman, they’re a way of life. The 34-year-old carpenter from Rancho Peñasquitos said he spends at least two days a week in the summers at Fiesta Island fishing with his wife and two children. He even plans some of his business practices around them, using leftover wood to create fires on the beach.

“I save it so I can have a fire on Fiesta Island,” Cheeseman said.

The third threat to fire pits came last week when Mayor Jerry Sanders proposed removing them to help fill a $56.7 million hole in the city’s $1.1 billion operating budget.

To give people like Cheeseman the chance to keep using the fire pits, the city is working to create a public-private partnership with the San Diego County Hotel Motel Association, the Convention and Visitors Bureau and the San Diego Foundation, the organization that facilitated a $260,000 anonymous donation that kept fire pits on the beaches two years ago.

The discussion kicks off with a meeting Friday with those groups and Councilman Kevin Faulconer to determine the best way to raise the money.

Ideas under consideration include a beach cleanup event and mixer to collect money to keep the pits in place through summer. An Adopt-A-Firepit program is also on the list of possibilities for long-term fundraising.

Namara Mercer, executive director for the hotel-motel association, said the group starting talking with Councilman Kevin Faulconer last year about how to keep the fire pits in place when Mayor Jerry Sanders suggested cutting them to save money.

Much of the current $120,500 in annual maintenance costs came from the San Diego Foundation, which gave $90,000 to keep them up and running. The rest is paid for out of council members’ budgets and private donations.

This year, the effort will include members of the hotel-motel association since the fire pits are a big revenue generator for San Diego’s hospitality industry, Mercer said.

“At any of those (hotels) along Mission Bay, you can just walk out of your room onto the beach and be able to have a fire, make s’mores and have your kids out there for a hot dog roast,” she said. “That’s amazing. You can’t do that in a lot of cities.”

Faulconer said the pits mean even more than tourism revenue for the city. They’re part of a community effort to preserve the quality of life in San Diego, he said.

The councilman acknowledged that asking for private donations may be difficult to swallow for some residents who have already been asked to maintain services that the city used to do, such as the cleanup of palm trees in some residential areas.

“In these budget times, we have to be creative and look for public-private partnerships to keep these services going,” he said.

If the city and the other agencies employed to raise money can’t bring in enough to keep the pits, the city will have to remove them from the beaches.

Councilman Carl DeMaio said the idea of a San Diego beach without a fire pit shows just how tight the coming budget will be.

“As a symbol it is perhaps one of the best ones that illustrates just how bad our financial crisis is,” he said. “It’s only a little bit of money in comparison to everything else, but it’s on the chopping block.”

The hotel-motel association’s beach cleanup fundraiser and mixer is set for May 12 at the Catamaran Resort in Mission Beach. (619) 293-1248


{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

ss April 22, 2011 at 9:45 am

It really is unfortunate the fire pits keep coming up They are such a nice inexpensive amenity to the San Diego beach scene. But it is apparent the Mayor just doesn’t want them, I’ll bet the police feel the same way. I am sure the fire pits do cause some problems for the law and life guards but overall they help to make San Diego unique and that should make them worth theexpense.
I have enjoyed many beach fires over the years. They provide cheap dates and enterainemt for young families. It is a tradition that San Diego should strive to hang on too.Right up there with OTL and surfing


Debbie Terry April 22, 2011 at 1:54 pm

I so disagree with funding the fire pits. People can bring their own. $120,000 could save over 100 lives -that is how much it costs to teach a kid the life-saving skill of swimming. Fire pits are nice but so many other needs of residents are critical. I didn’t realize that the councilmembers were using their office budgets to also subsidize the firepits. That money also should go where it is more needed – maybe paving the streets to get to the beach. Save Firefighters NOT Firepits!


Frank Gormlie April 23, 2011 at 9:20 am

Debbie, don’t forget your quality of life. How about save the firefighters and the firepits!


Rick Ward aka mr.rick April 24, 2011 at 2:12 pm

Some of my earliest memories in life are going to beach parties with my mom and dad at the beach with fires. Back then (1957 or so) we probably didn’t even have rings. The SDPD is probably wanting them gone so they don’t have to get out of their cars to see if anyone is drinking beer. I’d say the end of beer on the beach was their idea also. How much can it cost to maintain a fire ring cost? 120k ? Give us a break.


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