In a marked shift in policy, staff is moving away from past voluntary wood burning bans which largely failed and is now recommending that council adopt an urgency ordinance and introduce a regular ordinance that would regulate wood burning.
Since 2009, the City has been implementing a voluntary wood burning program in coordination with the Yolo Solano Air Quality Management District (YSAQMD). During this period the City and YSAQMD coordinated on air quality monitoring activities and consideration of alternatives to the voluntary policy.
On September 25 the Council directed staff to return with a wood burning ordinance, consistent with NRC policy direction approved at its September 24 meeting, for Council consideration in advance of the 2012-13 burn season (beginning November 1). Staff and the City Attorney have developed a proposed wood burning ordinance that can be effective by November 1.
If adopted, Davis would be the first city in Yolo County to adopt a mandatory wood burning policy.
One of the critical questions in the public debate over a wood burning ban would be over enforcement, with difficulties being blown into hyperbole with the suggestion of police having to enforce the policy.
Writes staff, “The program being proposed by staff provides the authority and structure to assess fines and enforcement actions for egregious offenders, yet will be implemented with a strong focus on education.”
They add, “Adoption of this program does not preclude the City from pursuing a more comprehensive curtailment program should it choose, however the analysis performed over the past three years indicates that the majority of complaints regarding wood burning seem to be the result of a small number of properties and the effort and expense of a more comprehensive program may not be necessary to alleviate the vast majority of problems.”
In short, the staff believes and probably with justification that such a policy would not entail a massive new enforcement effort such as has been feared or lampooned by opposition.
There are six critical elements to the proposed ordinance:
- Sets the trigger for curtailment days at the federal 24-hour fine particle (PM2.5) standard of 35 micrograms per cubic meter (μg/m3).
- Provides exemptions for USEPA Phase II certified devices, if burning properly, and when electrical and gas services are not available.
- Provides a waiver program to address economic hardship cases.
- Provides for the assessment of fines via an administrative citation with fines up to $100 for an initial offense, $200 for a second offense in a one year period and $500 for the third, or more offense in a one year period.
- Provides that the posting of a curtailment day notice on the City of Davis website will serve as public notice.
- Provides that the City will rely on the forecast of curtailment days used by the Yolo- Solano Air Quality Management District.
These policies address some of the other concerns, including those who utilize wood burning out of economic hardship.
The urgency ordinance would go into effect immediately.
“To ensure the City can implement an ordinance this burn season, a regular ordinance is also being introduced. This ordinance contains the same language as the urgency ordinance, but requires a second reading before it can be adopted and a 30-day period before it becomes effective,” staff writes. “The regular ordinance is being pursued in the event that the urgency ordinance findings are challenged and found to be invalid. This ensures that the City will have an ordinance in place during the 2012- 13 burn season period (November 1 February 28).”
According to the proposed ordinance, the prohibition would take effect in any period for which the City of Davis posts an advisory on its website where the forecasted fine particulate matter concentration is expected to exceed the critical 35 micrograms per cubic meter level.
The exemptions include the operation “of a U.S. EPA Phase II certified wood burning device or a pellet fueled wood burning heater, provided that the devices do not emit visible emissions, except for one period of not more than twenty minutes within any consecutive four hour period during the start up of a new fire.”
It would also not take effect for “the use of a wood burning device when no gas or electrical service heating system is installed in the structure and the wood burning device is the sole source of interior heat for the structure” or “the use of a wood burning device when electrical power service is not available, during times of temporary service outages.”
In addition, a waiver may be issued if the “director determines that there are compelling economic reasons to grant the waiver that outweigh the adverse impacts to the environment.”
In September, the NRC recommended that the City Council implement a pilot program with respect to posting the allowable burn days on the city website and as resources allow, they “recommend that an additional educational program be implemented to instruct the public on proper fire-starting and fire-burning methods.”
They write, “The NRC recognizes that while many Davis residences find fireplaces and wood burning appliances a desirable amenity, wood smoke consists of fine particles which are regarded as a health hazard by both national and state health professionals.”
“Regional air quality standards have been promulgated identifying maximum ambient levels of particulates in the air tolerable to the general population without adverse health effects,” they continue. “Unfortunately, use of wood burning appliances under certain weather conditions can result in wood smoke concentrations that significantly exceed these particulate air quality standards and adversely affect residents. The operation of wood burning appliances therefore needs to be regulated so as not to cause significant health risks to susceptible citizens.”
They add, “Currently, Davis residents affected by excessive local wood smoke sources have no available recourse or means to limit or stop the exposure and potential adverse health impacts.”
The NRC had made a number of proposals that were “rejected by the City Council, however, because they were deemed to be too complex or difficult to explain to the public.”
The new proposal has been successfully implemented by the Sacramento Air Quality Management District for the past four years and has been deemed “hugely successful in reducing PM2.5 levels of air in the region while entailing comparatively little expense to the District and little resistance from the general public. Indeed, the SacAQMD has stated that these restrictions have been the most cost effective anti-pollution measure they have ever undertaken.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting