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Davis, California

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Planned wood burning ordinance under fire

As the weather turns cold, you may want to think twice about throwing another log on the fire.

Due to health and environmental concerns, the city of Davis is in the process of developing an ordinance to restrict wood burning, but the process has not been without complications.

The latest draft of the proposed wood burning ordinance came before the city’s Natural Resources Commission (NRC) last week. Concerns addressed in public comment may have changed the final aim of the ordinance.

“What we’ve seen is this is a very emotional issue,” said Davis resident Alan Pryor, the director of Yolo Clean Air.

Pryor first proposed the ordinance to the City Council last year and has since been an important source of research for the wood-burning subcommittee.

The City Council asked the NRC in July to draft an ordinance with the eventual goal of banning all wood burning in Davis. For the interim, the commission proposed an ordinance which would create burn and no-burn days based on environmental factors. A permitting process was also proposed to regulate who could burn wood in their homes.

Burn days would be days in which the forecasted concentration of regional particulate matter falls below a certain level and wind speed is above 5 mph. By using these conditions, the commission hopes to allow for burning when the particulate matter would most safely be dispersed.

Newberry said this would leave more than half of the burn season (October to March) open for burning. He said this information would be included in educational materials received with a permit.

According to Pryor, wood burning creates a problem on a local, neighborhood level as opposed to a regional level. He said that while Davis has generally high quality air, chimney smoke poses health problems for neighbors, especially children and elderly residents with respiratory problems.

At the Oct. 27 meeting, wood burning enthusiasts and companies with economic ties to wood burning made their concerns known. Dean Newberry, another member of the NRC, said he was instrumental in getting the opposition to the meeting.

“We have had several meetings throughout the year where we have heard from people from Breathe California and such,” Newberry said. “A couple people have come in saying we don’t want to lose our wood burning stoves. I wanted to hear from everyone in the community.”

Newberry said the arguments in regards to homeowners’ rights and economic investments were important to the fairness of the ordinance, but others disagreed. Charles Ehrlich, a member of the NRC and former member of the wood-burning subcommittee, said he felt people’s statements during public comment were belittling and disrespectful to the work the commission had done.

“The city’s job is to recommend policy that is good for the whole city,” Ehrlich said. “This is not about convenience or ambiance. It’s about health and safety concerns.”

Pryor and Ehrlich supported a complete ban based on the scientific evidence that wood burning is a hazard to the community. Nonetheless, Tom Cahill, UC Davis professor of physics and atmospheric sciences, said science does not support the complete ban of wood burning.

“I don’t want it to be a situation where I’m opposing good environmental measures,” Cahill said. “But if this is something that will eventually be restricting people, I want to make sure it’s backed by good science.”

Cahill said that more research should be done to determine exactly where the greatest health risk is in order to restrict wood burning only where necessary. He also supports stringent burn and no-burn days.

Newberry said the NRC is currently working on a new ordinance to be proposed at the next meeting on Nov. 24. He said the proposal will have three potential ordinances to decide between. While being fundamentally the same, each contains a major difference.

All options include the definition of burn/no burn days proposed on Oct. 22. The first two options include permits issued for a season for people who want to continue using wood burning stoves. The main difference between the two is that the first includes an eventual complete ban while the second does not. The third option does not including permitting and would operate on a voluntary basis.

While Pryor initially supported the full ban, he said he now supports the second option that imposes restrictions, but does not include a full ban.

“We think this is a reasonable solution with both interests in mind,” he said. “But there’s a thumb on the scale in that health trumps ambiance.”

ELYSSA THOME can be reached at city@californiaaggie.com. 


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