Scaled Down Wood Burning Ban and Restrictions Before Council Next Week

Share:
Back in July, the Davis City Council voted unanimously to support a wood burning ban and send the matter to the Natural Resources Commission to write an ordinance. Even at that point of time, while supportive of the concept of banning wood burning stoves, it was clear that council was well ahead of the public on this issue.

Specifically I worried that the public did not even know this was coming down for the most part until the council had already discussed the issue. In the subsequent weeks and months, as the public has become aware of the issue, the public has turned against the idea of banning wood burning stoves.

Back on August 27, nearly a month after the council voted unanimously to move forward with a resolution, I wrote in the Vanguard:

On July 29, 2008, the Davis City Council unanimously voted to recommend to the Natural Resources Commission to draft a resolution that would implement a full ban on wood burning in Davis with an exemption for hardship.

I will say at the onset here, that I am fully in support of that decision, particularly with such an exemption for people of lower income backgrounds who rely on wood burning as a cheaper means by which to heat their homes in the winter.

However, at the time I was concerned about the way in which this issue had been dealt with by the city, the city council, and the local paper–or that is, not dealt. I got up to speak before city council on the night of July 29, 2008, to recommend two things. First, that we need exemptions for people with hardships. And second, that we needed better outreach before this meeting.

On the morning of July 29, I wrote this article in the Vanguard
. It essentially lays out my position on the technical aspects of this issue. But I believe that for many in this community, they did not know this issue was even under consideration until that article appeared the Vanguard and subsequently an article in the Davis Enterprise on July 31, 2008.

As a result, the Natural Resources Commission has made an alternative set of recommendations from staff recommendations. Both sets of recommendations significantly scale back the original council action approved on July 29, 2008.

The staff report is roughly 25 pages, thus this summary will not do it justice.

However, staff does make five recommendations that if the council approves them, an ordinance would be brought back well before November 2009 which would constitute the beginning of the next burn season.

Staff recommendations:

a) Work with Dr. Cahill and the YSAQMD to establish monitoring to gather specific air quality information, to be used in assessing what further restrictions may be in order;

b) Adopt the following wood burning restrictions: Establish burn/no burn days based on Federal air quality standard of PM2.5 of 35 ug/m3 and apply the same criteria to open hearth and non-certified appliances. Restrictions do not include the eventual ban on open hearth an non-certified appliances. Further restrictions will be revisited once air quality data is collected and analyzed.

c) Work more closely with the YSAQMD to disseminate all manner of information on the wood burning, i.e., health effects, proper burning techniques, etc;

d) Pursue programs that would encourage the change out of old appliances and the conversion of open hearth. This can be done through promotion of YSAQMD’s Woodstove Change Out Program and pursuing funds to increase the grant amount to further encourage change outs;

e) Pursue viability of using resale requirements that may reduce the number of open hearths and non-certified appliances.

Natural Resources Commission Recommendations:

a) Wood burning will only be allowed on “Allowable Burn Days” defined as a forecasted average regional PM 2.5 of 25 ug/m3 (particulate matter) or lower and a forecasted average wind speed from 6 PM to midnight of 5 mph or greater.

b) Wood burning will be allowed a maximum of 6 hours per day per residence and only burning of seasoned dry wood is allowed.

c) Beginning March 1, 2010, wood burning is only allowed in EPA Phase II-Certified wood and pellet stoves and prohibited in fire places or non-EPA certified appliances.

d) A one time permit is required (for law enforcement and educational purposes). Permit issuance would start March 1, 2010.

e) This proposed ordinance does not pertain to any appliances fueled by natural gas or propane and/or designed and exclusively used for cooking purposes.

f) Exemptions are allowed for temporary breakdowns of other heat sources and power outages.

The major difference between two the recommendations is that Staff’s recommendation focus on burn restrictions and contains no bans at this time. The NRC bans open hearth and other non-certified appliances but allows EPA Phase 2 certified appliances.

Staff report explains that they have followed Dr. Cahill’s approach:

“At the October NRC meeting, Dr. Cahill, a former professor in the UC system and local expert on global climate change, offered to work with the city to gather air quality information. Staff supports Dr. Cahill’s measured approach of gathering specific information that will aide in assessing the air quality and the nature of future action. This would be accomplished through a donation of monitoring equipment and Dr. Cahill’s expertise and time to evaluate data. Staff has met with Dr. Cahill and a monitoring station has been set up.”

The staff report does not know what the fiscal impact of this approach will be.

The enforcement issue has been a concern. The idea that the police would have to become the enforcers seems a waste of police resources among other related problems. The NRC draft ordinance includes enforcement as a response to those who burn illegally, staff seems uncomfortable with the notion however.

“While it is simple to suggest that the Police Department enforce the ordinance, the nuances of actually doing so are quite complex. There are several elements that make the draft ordinance difficult to enforce.”

The staff report continues:

1. Because of the inherent difficulties of monitoring actual burning time, the 6 hour
maximum burn time is not enforceable.

2. Enforcement is complicated when various appliances are treated differently. Police officers would be required to distinguish between open hearth, non-EPA certified wood burning stoves and inserts and EPA Phase II certified stoves and inserts. Some of this concern is relieved if permits are issued.

3. Police officers would be required to distinguish between seasoned dry wood and unseasoned or wet wood.

4. And lastly, this type of call could be triaged and be a very low priority. It is difficult to estimate what percentage of calls the Police Department would be able to respond to.

This actually only gets to the tip of the iceberg. Quite simply enforcement would have to be treated specially. Because different devices, different woods, and burning time periods are involved, it would make the police’s job very difficult. This is not a like a noise ordinance or a smoking ordinance that would be fairly straight forward to enforce. The city probably does not have the resources to deal with the enforcement and frankly this is not what the police should be doing either. This section needs considerable thought and attention–while I might in general favor the NRC approach, it would be very difficult to enforce which might make the staff approach more feasible.

Finally the issue of burn/ no burn criteria is discussed.

Staff’s assessment of the NRC recommendation:

“The criteria the NRC recommends uses an air quality threshold that is lower than the Federal standard. To our knowledge, this lower threshold has not been used in any other burn restricting ordinances. The NRC recommendation further adds an additional factor of wind speed which is also unprecedented.”

Staff on the other hand:

“Staff believes a more measured approach and collection of air quality data will assist with the establishment of burn/no burn criteria based on the City’s air quality. The data collected will help define the air quality challenges in the City and thus allow for the development of burn/no burn thresholds that target the city’s needs. Staff recommends starting with moderate restrictions, the Federal standard, and then stepping towards a more restrictive ordinance as may be deemed necessary by the results of the data collection.”

It is helpful that the staff report includes a chart to show the impact of each regulation:

The bottom line here is that staff’s approach is probably the least preferred alternative at this point. The impact to people who have allergies and asthma of wood burning is immeasurable. It is probably a larger percentage of the population than the percentage that makes frequent use of wood burning.

However, what happened was the initial wood burning ban got too far ahead of the public on this issue and there has been considerable blowback over the last four or five months. The result was the need for a more scaled-back approach. Wood burning bans in short need to be slowly phased in and the public needs to be educated on the health hazards involved. That certainly had not occurred in July, which is why we expressed concern at that point in time that the issue had not been properly vetted.

From our perspective, the NRC approach is the better approach than the staff report. It contains the goal of phasing out and banning non-EPA approved devices and has a more stringent measure for no burn days.

However, even with this more scaled back approach, there remains the concern that because it is multifaceted, it will be difficult to enforce. That is not a reason not to pass it, but it does need to be thoroughly examined.

The Vanguard understands the rationale behind the more measured approach, but fears it does not go far enough and is not aggressive enough in terms of dealing with the very real health hazards involved in wood burning.

—Doug Paul Davis reporting

Share:

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

Related posts

31 thoughts on “Scaled Down Wood Burning Ban and Restrictions Before Council Next Week”

  1. Chris

    Is it just me or does this …problem… of wood-burning seem overblown? I've lived in Davis for 15 years and never been bothered by smoke coming out of my neighbors or anyone else's house. We occassionally use our fireplace, but never regularly. It wouldn't affect me to have it outlawed, but I can't see any good reason why it should be.There are about 40 people in Davis who are really concerned about smoke coming from their neighbors' chimneys. Maybe they have asthma or they are just hypocondriacs. But that isn't justification for outlawing fireplaces for the other 60,000 people in town who might occassionally want to warm their houses in the winter.My suggestion is the people who are bothered should wear a respiration mask when they are running around outside in the winter and their neighbors are having fires. That would solve the …problem….

  2. Anonymous

    I think we need a parcel tax to pay for …mobile fireplace judges…. The judges could drive around in new electic city vehicles equipped with infrared scanners. They could issue search warrants in front of your house and then ram your door to recover wet wood evidence and haul away offenders. I just hope they don't catch Santa!

  3. FastFwed

    Is there a limit as to how many times I can …ditto… the TWO previous authors?? I like Mike Harts' post as well as Chris' so enough said…All the rest of you should just READ what they wrote and move on….

  4. Anonymous

    Is it just me or does this …problem… of wood-burning seem overblown?It's not just you. Winter air pollution (greater than 2.5 PM) in our region from home fireplaces is not a problem on most days.In the Yolo-Solano AQMD we have had only one day this Winter where the PM was …unhealthy for sensitive groups…. All other days were rated …good… or …moderate…. None were …unhealthy… or …very unhealthy…. Last Winter (2006/07)there were zero days worse than …moderate… in the Y-S AQMD.That said, if you want to have a fire in your fireplace, you shouldn't have one in an open hearth. It won't heat your house and it will dump ash and bad air on your neighbors. You should install an EPA certified wood-burning insert. The Y-S AQMD offers a $250 rebate to anyone who wants to replace a non-certified woodburning stove or insert with an EPA certified unit.

  5. Anonymous

    …The impact to people who have allergies and asthma of wood burning is immeasurable. It is probably a larger percentage of the population than the percentage that makes frequent use of wood burning….DPD–Are you saying very few people in Davis …make frequent use of wood burning…? Therefore we really don't have a big problem here? How big is this problem if very few ever burn wood? If someone has severe asthma, would banning all wood burning sovle that? If someone with severe asthma stays indoors when the guy down the block lights a pellet stove, will the asthmatic still get sick?

  6. Anonymous

    Is it just me or does this …problem… of wood-burning seem overblown?YES. I can't believe the city has spent so much time on this when there are real problems to deal with. I don't there should be a ban at all. If I want to burn wood in my fireplace (if I had a fireplace), then I should be allowed to do so. Ditto to Mike Hart about creating guidelines and perhaps leaving it at that. At most, have something like a …spare the air… day for days when there is already a certain level of pollution.

  7. Keep our air clean

    The ARB (Air Resouces Board) under the CAL EPA expresses concern over the impact that wood burning has on the quality of air that we breathe.Why is it that the same people who write on this blog and want to claim that EPA is correct on Target but incorrect on burining wood…. Are you in denial? Thank you for this article David.

  8. Keep our air clean

    Clarification:Why is it that the same people who write on this blog and want to claim that EPA is correct on Target but incorrect on burining wood…. I meant to say that some interpret EPA as saying that there is no supposedly no concern over Target being built on a TOXIC site.

  9. Anonymous

    The Yolo/Solano AQMD called only a couple of days as …bad air days… last year because they are looking at regional, not local/neighborhood air quality. The AQMD director acknowledged at a recent NRC meeting that fire place smoke does collect at the neighborhood level and is indeed a hazard. He acknowledged that wood smoke is very toxic. He supports Davis' attempts to address that problem with an ordinance similar to what is now being proposed. So does teh American Lung Association and Breath California. Wood smoke accounts for 30 to 50 percent of the particulate matter in the air during winter months. This is a real health hazard and it must be addressed. There are many more than a handful of people with respiratory problems in Davis, as some of those who posted today seem to think. Next time you have the chance, check out the number of kids who take inhalers to school with them. Asthma is a serious health concern. Yes, there are other causes for asthma than wood smoke, but this is one trigger that is relatively easily to reduce. Before popping off about …hypochondriacs…, check out the Breath California and American Lung Association websites for information on asthma frequency. The ordinance now proposed by the NRC is very reasonable. Ban open hearth and old uncertified wood stove wood burning beginning in winter 2010. All other devices are allowed under appropriate wind speed condition, which can be easily determined and announced by the AQMD. The ordinance would be enforced on a complaint basis. If someone is using an open hearth fireplace or old smoky stove, and that smoke bothers a neighbor, the neighbor complains and the complaint is investigated. If no one is bothered, no complaint. I do agree that I do not see how the 6 hour rule can possibly be enforced and what purpose it serves if only EPA certified or otherwise clean burning devices are used. I think that the 6 hour rule should be eliminated from the ordinance. If people burn non-polluting wood burning devices under the appropriate conditions as determined by the AQMD, then there should be no complaints about wood smoke because there would be none collecting at the neighborhood level.To the person who has lived here 15 years and never been bothered by wood smoke: do you live in a newer area of DAvis? If so, it is very likely that any fireplaces or stoves are gas or electric and do not emit wood smoke. I live in an older area, and can rarely go outside on a winter day without smelling wood smoke.There are indeed many other problems we need to address, but wood smoke is most definitely an air quality problem for many of us, and it is relatively easy to address, so why not do it and eliminate one source of unhealthy air.

  10. Don Shor

    …Next time you have the chance, check out the number of kids who take inhalers to school with them. Asthma is a serious health concern. … check out the Breath California and American Lung Association websites for information on asthma frequency….It is also a very manageable disease, especially with the controller medications that are now available. I have had asthma for years. At least in my case, smoke is a very minor irritant.

  11. Mike

    The ordinance would be enforced on a complaint basis. If someone is using an open hearth fireplace or old smoky stove, and that smoke bothers a neighbor, the neighbor complains and the complaint is investigated. If no one is bothered, no complaint.This sounds reasonable to me. However, I think the cost of enforcement should be charged to the parties involved. If a person complains and his complaint is found to be valid, the offender should pay a fine for the violation and pay the cost of the cops coming out to investigate. If, however, the complaint is determined to be unfounded, the person who called the cops should have to pay for the cost of the investigation. That way the majority of citizens who neither burn wood nor are bothered by it would not have to pay for this law. Those who make false allegations would have an incentive to stop making them; and those who are really harming their neighbors would have an incentive to stop doing so.

  12. Anonymous

    What no one is looking at are the penalities to be assesed if the NRC suggestion goes forward: $100 for a first offense, $200 for a second, and $1,000 and up to 6 months in jail for a third. Don't believe it? Look it up.

  13. Anonymous

    To the person who has lived here 15 years and never been bothered by wood smoke: do you live in a newer area of DAvis?I live in Old East Davis (J Street).If so, it is very likely that any fireplaces or stoves are gas or electric and do not emit wood smoke.Nope. We have open hearth fireplaces.I live in an older area, and can rarely go outside on a winter day without smelling wood smoke.Where? I'll try to suck in some of your wretched air tonight.

  14. Anonymous

    Seems to me the main question that needs to be answered here is if wood smoke is hazardous… Here are a few direct quotes from the July 29 Council meeting.Mat Ehrhardt, Executive Director of the Yolo Solano Air Quality Management District (in response to a question from Saylor asking if he agreed with some comments that wood smoke is less hazardous than originally suspected)

  15. Anonymous

    The International Agency for Research in Cancer recently categorized wood smoke as a Type 2A carcinogen meaning it probably causes human cancer. Wood smoke contains at least 5 chemical groups classified as known human carcinogens and at least 26 chemicals listed by the US EPA as

  16. Erik

    I think giving the government,especially police, the power to barge onto private property, especially a home in a non-emergency situation is a bad idea.This topic gives me visions of abusive, unjustified police home searches suddenly upheld by courts because they are allegedly based on …smoking chimneys….

  17. Don Shor

    …Seems to me the main question that needs to be answered here is if wood smoke is hazardous… …It is not hazardous when it blows away, which it does the majority of the time here.So the main question is why it is being proposed to ban fireplaces and stoves 100% of the time when smoke is a problem less than half the time?

  18. ...from my very cold

    …Mike Hart said…I think that the entire proposal would make an excellent set of guidelines for proper use of fireplaces and woodstoves in Davis. But nothing more than guidelines. They can be printed, distributed……..and then they can be put in your fireplace and burned.

  19. Anonymous

    Anonymous said… Lets stop growing trees , that solves the problem , I can't believe you PHD'S haven't thought of that… 12/29/08 9:57 PMTrees grow fine by themselves if left alone. Tell that to the overzealous Rob Cain of City of Davis Parks and Recreation…who is in charge of massive tree-cutting in Davis.

  20. Rich Rifkin

    Where is there …massive tree-cutting… going on in Davis? Do you mean tree-trimming?It's my understanding — I suppose barring an emergency or severe hazard situation — that trees on public lands and designated street trees cannot be cut down without the approval of the Davis Tree Commission. Is that wrong? If my understanding is correct, why would you castigate …the overzealous Rob Cain of City of Davis Parks and Recreation?… Has Mr. Cain done something improper?

  21. Mike Hart

    I think that the entire proposal would make an excellent set of guidelines for proper use of fireplaces and woodstoves in Davis. But nothing more than guidelines. They can be printed, distributed, put on the website and chanted in schools… But not turned into unenforceable laws. The whole notion of …Fireplace Police… is just silly. Hmmm… I could see a sting operation on people suspected of using improperly seasoned wood using a cop dressed as Santa sliding down the chimney with a moisture content reader.So in short, the council should thank the commission for their efforts, and take their guidelines and put them out for people to use as they see fit.

  22. Anonymous

    When the Davis police raid the house of a suspected woodburner, there may be two or more people on the couch. Who goes to prison after lighting that third Duraflame log (…THE THIRD OFFENSE…), everybody? What if I say, …she did it…? And do the kids go to emergency foster care while we are inside? Just wondering.

  23. Anonymous

    To Erik: …I think giving the government,especially police, the power to barge onto private property especially a home in a non-emergency situation is a bad idea….Oh, really, Erik – What if your neighbor is blasting away their boombox at 3:30 AM or they are burning a big pile of trash in their backyard bathing you in putrid smoke. I am just guessing that you would want your police to respond and am pretty sure you would be more than happy to have the police …invade… that neighbors privacy!…heh?

  24. Anonymous

    To: Anonymous Re: Your post – …When the Davis police raid the house of a suspected woodburner, there may be two or more people on the couch. Who goes to prison after lighting that third Duraflame log……Come on! Are you serious? See my response to Erik above. The police deal with these types of complaints and the problem of ascertaining the responsible party all the time just like with loud music, burning trash, barking dogs, illegal possession of stolen goods, drug possesion, etc. It is their job to investigate crimes. Would you have them not respond and investigate any home crimes because there are more than one person in a house? Let’s face it, it is not like our police are incredably busy dealing with ongoing gang violence or daily murders and rapes such that a wood smoke complaint is going to keep them from getting the really bad guy. But if they do not have the man power to respond, it is a low priority…just like barking dogs or someone smoking withing 20 ft of a public building’s entrance. Oh wait!..I get it…you want to take all those types of laws off the books too! Now it makes sense.

  25. Anonymous

    …I am just guessing that you would want your police to respond and am pretty sure you would be more than happy to have the police …invade… that neighbors privacy!…If your neighbor’s smoke is bothering you, why don’t you just go over and talk to them? Is this really a police matter?

  26. Anonymous

    To: …just talk to your neighbor.Last winter we had a new renter in our neighborhood who burned almost every day. The smoke was worse than anything during the wildfires last summer. A whole group of neighborhood people (including one guy with lung cancer and a mother with a kid with asthma) asked them to stop. They said their mother was staying with them for the winter and they wanted her to feel comfortable with them because she enjoyed wood fires all the time in her own home. So they just kept right on burning and our air was really foul until they went through their whole 1 ?

  27. SlideHiller

    Another part of this is the difference between neighborhoods. Newer homes have electric fireplaces with fake logs. Folks with plenty of discretionary money can spend $5000 on the latest EPA stove. In my Slide Hill neighborhood, I don’t know anyone with an EPA stove. Most of us don’t have jet tubs , walk-in closets, or laundry rooms either. Telling us to stop using our fireplaces, or spend $5,000 on a stove, is a bigger hardship than in Northstar or Alhambra Estates. Our open-hearth fireplaces are one of the best features in our homes, and we love gathering around a fire on a cold winter night. If it’s foggy or still, I don’t burn. Can’t we agree on that voluntarily? We’re good at recycling, and the police don’t have to enforce that. Let the police fight crime like they’re supposed to. For example, one day my car was being hot-wired in front of my house. The police came in two minutes and caught the car thieves red-handed. Or maybe we want to increase our city taxes to pay for a police wood-sniffer. Come on… let’s get reasonable. Educate us on the right way to burn and we’ll do it.

Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
$ USD
Sign up for