Council Passes Mandatory Wood Burning Restrictions in One-Year Pilot Project

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It took a while and council had to sort out competing views from the public – one group of whom expressed concern about the intrusion into their private lives, the other concerned about personal or public health impacts of wood-burned smoke.

In the end, the council moved forward with a rather modest compromise measure by a 5-0 vote that will allow them to come back in a year and see what impact the measure had on the issue.

In the end, the council agreed to put forward the staff recommendation which would include an urgency ordinance, with the full ordinance coming back on November 13 for the first reading, and the hope would be to have it in place by December, a month into the burn season.

The ordinance would allow for the curtailment to 25 micrograms per cubic meter.  It would contain exemptions for the US EPA Phase II certified device along with manufactured logs, which Brett Lee offered produced far less pollution than standard logs, and would allow those with open hearth fireplaces to still burn on restricted days.

Addressing the concerns that people with the EPA approved devices could burn all day, the council made it far easier, both to enforce the ordinance as well as to mitigate the potential that people using the EPA device would simply burn all day long – thus eliminating the benefit of the reduction in the rate of emissions.

The requirement would be that the use of the EPA Phase 2 and manufactured logs would be there only if there were no visible smoke.  If there is visible smoke, the EPA Phase 2 device would not be exempt.

Council stipulated that enforcement would strictly be by complaint only – meaning there would be no roving bands of police or code enforcement officials moving through the streets in search of violators.

“It is complaint based,” Councilmember Rochelle Swanson said.  “So that perhaps with that kind of a compromise we’re able to get at the nearest neighbor and able to move forward.”

Council further imposed a $5000 spending limit.

While there has been much made about the urgency ordinance, this is simply a matter of the date.  As Councilmember Swanson explained, if this issue came forward thirty days ago, it would not be under urgency.  However, council wanted this in effect on November 1 for the start of the burn season.

Brett Lee was concerned that the staff recommendation of 35 micrograms per cubic meter limit was not rigorous enough.

“I think the science is clear that particulate pollution especially at the smaller level is quite harmful,” Councilmember Brett Lee said.  “That’s not within question and recent studies have shown that it’s more harmful than was originally thought.”

He expressed concern that council would be setting the emissions limit (when it was proposed at the 35 level) at a level where there would only be three days of regulation.

His concern was passing it at the 35 level would enable the existing condition and system to continue for people adversely impacted by wood smoke.

“They won’t see a noticeable improvement,” he said.  “A lot of [the wood burning problem] is the nearest neighbor aspect.  And nearest neighbor, I’ve received two complaints today about wood smoke and today I don’t think would be anywhere near the levels requiring regulation.”

Councilmember Rochelle Swanson suggested as a compromise that 35 be mandatory but 25 be volunteer.  She argued, “Most people in our community respect the no burn days.  They respect don’t light tonight, but not everybody does.”

The $5000 limit came at the behest of Councilmember Rochelle Swanson.

“Out of respect for the tight budget times that we are in, I do have confidence in staff, but I think we have to put a limit, like say a $5000 limit, and at that point staff would have to come back and have metrics of what was done,” Councilmember Swanson said.  “Gives us a chance to see before spring where it’s at but it also makes the community also feel comfortable that we’re cognizant of the potential costs.”

“The health effects issues are real, they are a legitimate concern,” Councilmember Lucas Frerichs added.

He pushed hard for the notion that this be a pilot project.

“The idea of doing an ordinance for this specific season is exactly that,” he said.  “It’s a test run to see if there’s an appreciable difference in the effects of the issue and/or the problem and I do think there’s a problem associated with it.”

Mayor Joe Krovoza drew the sharpest line.

“I guess where I am is that if the voluntary program were working we wouldn’t be here tonight, period, ” he said.  “If staff were actually able to contact people who were violating during the voluntary no burn and have any teeth to their contact, we wouldn’t be here tonight.  The problem would be solved.  People wouldn’t be suffering.”

“The very fact that we’re here is that it hasn’t worked,” he added.  “I do get emails from people who say, I haven’t bothered to complain because staff can’t do anything.”

He added that many people do abide by the voluntary program, but a lot don’t and those who complain say that they get blown off because it is voluntary.

He also argued that going to 35 did not make sense to him because there have been years where it did not go above 35 at all.  Obviously, that does not solve the problem that people are facing.

“If we take a three-year average over 35, we would have one event per season,” he said.  “That’s what we’re talking about here, the staff proposal is to have over the course of three years is to have one day in the city of Davis that’s a no-burn day.  That’s just nothing. So I think that if we want to teach the community to care about it, we need to do that.”

Mayor Pro Tem Dan Wolk was reluctant at first.

“I do believe that there are these nearest neighbor impacts absolutely,” he said.  He expressed concerns about the urgency ordinance, arguing that it’s important to get this issue right.  “I’m interested in talking more about this issue, but at least tonight, I’m not interested in adopting the urgency ordinance.”

The council clarified that this would be a pilot – that it would be alive for one season and council would have to act next year to extend it, modify it, or they could not act at all in which case it would terminate the ordinance.

The ordinance would be terminated on March 1, 2013, at the end of the burn season.

“There’s been a lot made about the word ban, but it’s really about curtailment and restriction, we’re not trying to outright ban people from using their wood stoves or their fireplaces,” Councilmember Swanson said.

“There’s two classes of people under this motion that will not be affected one bit,” Mayor Krovoza added.  “EPA phase II folks and manufactured logs – they will not be affected by this ordinance.  So there is no flat ban, there is merely a restriction starting at 25 mgs.”

Mayor Pro Tem Dan Wolk came around, “I think this strikes a good balance.  I think that there are real valid concerns out there.”  He referenced Brett Lee’s concerns about people wanting to have their fire on Christmas Eve.  “I think this ordinance is trying to strike a balance between doing this temporary one-year pilot program with limited enforcement that attempts to get at the heart of this problem.”

He added, “Viewing this as a pilot program it’s really important to have those metrics about what does it cost and what are the results.”

He wants to look at this carefully and examine what the goals of this program are.

The motion passed unanimously.  The ordinance takes effect on November 1 and ends on March 1, 2013.  Council would then likely reevaluate the program over the summer.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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.

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21 thoughts on “Council Passes Mandatory Wood Burning Restrictions in One-Year Pilot Project”

  1. SouthofDavis

    David wrote:

    > The ordinance … would contain exemptions for the
    > US EPA Phase II certified device along with manufactured
    > logs, which Brett Lee offered produced far less pollution
    > than standard logs, and would allow those with open
    > hearth fireplaces to still burn on restricted days.

    With manufactured log exemption in place the law is worthless since all people need to do is “say” that they are burning “manufactured logs” and the “fireplace police” will need to leave (or head up to Woodland to get a search warrant from a judge)…

  2. rusty49

    “With manufactured log exemption in place the law is worthless since all people need to do is “say” that they are burning “manufactured logs” and the “fireplace police” will need to leave (or head up to Woodland to get a search warrant from a judge)…”

    SOD….lol….and I’m sure by the time they get back that fire will be out. Neighbor turning in neighbor….it might get ugly.

  3. David M. Greenwald

    “With manufactured log exemption in place the law is worthless since all people need to do is “say” that they are burning “manufactured logs” and the “fireplace police” will need to leave (or head up to Woodland to get a search warrant from a judge)…”

    Not true, that’s why the visible smoke provision is critical. If there is visible smoke, there is no exemption.

  4. David M. Greenwald

    “So your neighbor can run the Phase II stove 24/7 but don’t you dare light up that cozy fire on Christmas Eve if it’s a ban day.”

    Again the visible smoke issue levels the playing field here.

  5. Frankly

    Ding dong.

    Open the door.

    Guy that rang the door bell: “Hello, I am from the city and noticed smoke coming from your chimney. I need to come in and confirm that you are not burning wood.”

    Me: “I am not buring wood.”

    Guy: “Well, I need to check.”

    Me: “Well, you are not invited in to check.”

    Guy: “Ok sir, then I will have to assume you are burning wood and there will be a fine.”

    Me: “I am not buring wood, and if you try to fine me I will sue the city, and include you in the law suit as being personally liable for lying.”

    Guy: “Are you threatening me sir?”

    Me: “Yes, I am threatening you with a law suit for interrupting my day, wasting my time, threatening me with fines and causing me stress.”

    Me: “Make sure you indicate on your form that I am NOT buring wood, and have a nice day.”

    Door is shut.

  6. David M. Greenwald

    Jeff: You obviously did not read this carefully. The council made it very clear that this would be based on complaints only, not city inspections.

  7. David M. Greenwald

    I believe Code Enforcement, my guess is that lack of cooperation with code enforcement would necessitate the police getting involved – kind of silly over what would be a warning on a first offense.

  8. rusty49

    Jeff’s point is that whoever complains can’t prove anything. Maybe they’re burning an approved log but have built up chimney soot causing the smoke. Once again, get a warrant and get off my porch.

  9. David M. Greenwald

    My guess is it won’t matter what causes the smoke, if the smoke is visible. I suppose you can challenge it, the second time if I were the neighbor I’d simple take photos. I don’t see the point in making a federal case out what would be warning nor do I see the point in antagonizing your neighbors.

  10. Don Shor

    First complaint should just lead to a letter. Second complaint to a nominal fine, which can be appealed at the city offices. Third complaint goes to a judge. Nobody comes to the door.
    The problem is we have a small number of people who refuse to stop burning under any circumstances, and a small number of people who are upset about burning. Some mechanism needs to be in place to resolve the conflict between these two groups of people, and at the moment those affected by burning have no recourse.

  11. Mark West

    I thought the Council handled this quite well, identifying it as a pilot program with the primary intent of education. The ‘stick’ portion is clearly aimed at repeat offenders and enforcement comes only after a complaint and visual confirmation by a City employee and at least one written notifications. No invading your home since the violation is 20 minutes of continuous visual smoke regardless of what you are burning.

    Now that said, some of the public comment and the previous complaints clearly indicate that ‘any’ wood smoke will be too much for some people. All I can say to that is hopefully nobody from that group lives in my neighborhood.

  12. Frankly

    [i]Jeff’s point is that whoever complains can’t prove anything. Maybe they’re burning an approved log but have built up chimney soot causing the smoke. Once again, get a warrant and get off my porch.[/i]

    Rusty is correct.

    Having smoke does not mean I am burning wood.

    You can’t prove it if I don’t let you in.

    You can’t come in without a warrant.

    If we are getting to that point – fireplace police – we have a very big problem and folks like me will make a very big stink. The noise from that will certainly exceed the noise from those five people complaining about wood smoke.

    I was in beautiful Jackson Hole, Wyoming one winter a few years ago. Walking downtown I noticed that the car exhaust and fireplace smoke was hanging around street level and it was not as pleasant as I would have preferred. Like Davis, Jackson Hole, as the name indicates, sits on the bottom of a valley where cold air gets trapped including all the particulate matter suspended in it. However, banning fireplace wood burning in Jackson Hole would never happen. The people that tried to push it would be ran out of town on a rail.

    The point I am making here… Davis, like Jackson Hole, is in a valley where air quality is low many days of the year. If you have bad asthma, you might not want to live in Jackson Hole or Davis.

    One more related point. In many places around the globe where air quality can get bad (Beijing for example) people with sensitive airway problems will wear a filter mask. If your house is weather-tight (as it should be to consume less energy and reduce your carbon footprint), and you wear an air-filter mask when going outside on bad air days, you should be fine. Then you can stop trying to destroy others’ freedom to have a nice wood fire in their fireplace.

  13. Lydia L.

    Jeff B- this is slightly off topic but I can’t resist commenting.
    Re: someone knocking on your door: I don’t know about Davis, but I do know that in 2007 the Dixon police entered my friend’s home w/ a search warrant, all based on a person’s fabricated story, but found nothing. And they arrested my friend with no probable cause, while they investigated, then ultimately had to dismiss their charges. So, yeah, it sounds like if someone says you are burning something, then if the police want an excuse to search your home & harass you, they’ll find someone to say they saw smoke coming from your house. But I am not the most subjective person to be making this comment.

  14. medwoman

    “Neighbor turning in neighbor….it might get ugly.”

    Neighbor ignoring the health needs of a neighbor……it already does look ugly to me.
    And as for not living somewhere where there is smoke if you have asthma, that’s great if you are proactively making the choice to move in.
    What if you already have been living in your home when one of your children developes asthma? What if you have asthma, have been living in your home for years next to neighbors who sell their home and the new neighbors insist on burning for their own pleasure. Are you really suggesting that a family should be forced out of their home because a neighbor insists on burning.

  15. Mr.Toad

    I’ve lived in a cabin that only had wood heat so i’ve long thought this ban idea was absurd but then I started to smell acrid smoke around town on occasion. Now I still like to have a fire once in a while but I’m more aware of what I’m doing, the weather and how dry is my wood. I think this is a good process and worth a try. It reminds me of second hand smoke, something nobody cared about when i was young, but, now is considered rude.

    I can’t help but point out use of fireplaces could become another casualty of densification.

  16. medwoman

    “something nobody cared about when i was young, but, now is considered rude.
    If “rude” were the only issue this would carry no more weight than bad table manners. The problem with second hand smoke, like recreational wood burning, is not one of politeness, it is one of health risks.

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