Davis City Council took a step towards banning wood burning fireplaces at its meeting Tuesday night, in an effort to improve local air quality.
In January, the council directed the Natural Resources Commission to review the issue of wood burning restrictions and make a recommendation to the council. The commission responded by advising the council to eventually prohibit all wood burning fireplaces in Davis, but in the interim to implement a permit system that would only allow burning on days that meet certain meteorological requirements.
City staff, however, had reservations about the plausibility of the time frame of the NRC’s proposal.
“For the city to establish a new program by October 2008 is ambitious at best,” said Sue Gedestad, city staff liaison to the NRC.
In a unanimous vote, the council agreed with the city staff’s recommendation to postpone the mandatory ban in favor of encouraging voluntary reductions and increasing public knowledge of the hazards associated with wood smoke in order to prepare Davis residents for a total ban in the future.
“I‘m in favor of an immediate ban of some sort, but I understand that there may be support for a phase-in ban,” said Councilmember Lamar Heystek. “As long as we direct the NRC to provide us with what a ban would look like, then we’re doing our job.“
The council opted to participate more aggressively in existing public education programs put on by the Yolo Solano Air Quality Management District as well as publicizing the issue on the city’s website and around town.
“I agree that the public needs more information,” said Councilmember Stephen Souza. “There are things that need to be done to educate and inform, but the policy is well crafted.“
Air quality management districts throughout the state have been considering or enacting similar bans due to increasing health concerns about particulate matter in wood smoke. Inhaling particulate matter can aggravate asthma and is considered dangerous for the elderly and young children.
“Wood smoke is a category two carcinogen, meaning that it probably causes cancer,” said Jenny Bard, who spoke on behalf of the American Lung Association during public comment. “It is the largest source of particle pollution during the winter time.“
Bard urged the council to adopt mandatory restrictions sooner rather than later. Davis residents lined up during the public comment period to express support for the ban. Members of the NRC also spoke to express concern with the city staff’s changes to the commission’s recommendations.
“It was a bit of a surprise that staff was submitting comments contrary to the NRC,” said Charles Ehrlich, a member of the commission. “We did a lot of work going through this and I‘m kind of amazed that now it‘s competing with the staff‘s opinion.“
Some expressed concern during public comment about the staff’s recommendation of a voluntary program for the coming winter.
“A voluntary program as proposed by staff has never worked in any of the [districts] that have tried them in California,” said Alan Pryor, director of Yolo Clean Air and technical advisor to the NRC. “[City] staff wants to put off the decision by a year.“
Despite concerns about the voluntary program, the council seemed uncomfortable implementing a mandatory restriction without giving the public more warning and education.
“This hasn’t been out there,” Heystek said. “A lot of people don‘t realize this is being considered.“
ALYSOUN BONDE can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.